Khashoggi murder case and the changing Saudi narrative

By Ali Abo Rezeg

ANKARA (AA) – Since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul early last month, the Saudi authorities have offered at least four different explanations as to exactly what happened.

Within hours of his disappearance on Oct. 2, the Saudi authorities were rejecting claims put forward by Khashoggi's Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, that the journalist had failed to reemerge from the consulate building.

The first official Saudi statement regarding the case was made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an interview with the Bloomberg news agency.

Bin Salman told Bloomberg on Oct. 5 that Khashoggi had left the embassy “minutes” after his initial arrival.

"My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I’m not sure. We are investigating this through the Foreign Ministry to see exactly what happened at that time," bin Salman was quoted as saying.

He added: "We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises."

A day after the interview, the consulate — in a bid to confirm bin Salman's claims — invited reporters from the Reuters news agency to inspect the premises.

Nothing out of the ordinary was reportedly found in the building.

Saudi authorities continued to deny any responsibility for Khashoggi’s death until Oct. 20, when the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) published an urgent decree on the issue released by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The decree called for the immediate dismissal of several senior Saudi officials, including deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Asiri and Royal Court adviser Saud al-Qahtani.

On the same day, following a call between King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Riyadh announced that Khashoggi had in fact been killed inside the Istanbul consulate.

According to the SPA, however, the death had occurred following a "quarrel" between Khashoggi and Saudi officials.

But the “quarrel” narrative was soon forgotten after the Saudi authorities announced on Oct. 25 that they had received information from Turkey indicating that those responsible for Khashoggi’s murder had planned the crime in advance.

“Information obtained from Turkey indicates that suspects in the case planned the act in advance,” the SPA quoted Saudi Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mujeb as saying.

And on Wednesday, Turkish prosecutors announced the preliminary findings of their ongoing investigation, saying Khashoggi had been strangled to death soon after entering the consulate in Istanbul.

Istanbul’s chief public prosecutor also weighed in, saying Khashoggi’s body had been disposed of after having first been dismembered.

Since then, the Saudi authorities have continued to plead ignorance regarding the whereabouts of the slain journalist’s remains.