Khashoggi murder one step closer to resolution with striking new findings
One of the darkest cases in recent history, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is becoming less mysterious thanks to new findings published today that reveal the identities of two more members of the hit squad and more voice recordings
It's been almost three months since Jamal Khashoggi entered into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul only to never come out again. Despite being committed at the heart of one of the biggest metropoles in the world and inside a diplomatic mission on top of that, the murder of this U.S.-based Saudi journalist had quickly gained a reputation for being one of the most brutal and mysterious crimes in recent history. Although this hideous incident initially dropped like a bombshell with hundreds of questions, most of these unanswered mysteries have gradually been uncovered.
A recent book on the issue, however, sheds even more light over the crime, revealing new details that help us get a clearer picture of the events that lead to the dissident journalist's murder and what transpired afterward. "Diplomatic Atrocity: The dark secrets of the Khashoggi murder," a book that is about to be released by the intelligence service of Turkey's Sabah newspaper, presents itself as a reliable source for those who are interested in the issue, while revealing brand new details. Some of the most striking new details are the revelation of the two new identities who were the members of the so-called "hit squad" and new audio recordings that give information both before and after the murder, proving that the crime was premeditated and committed in cold blood.
Two new faces in the Saudi hit squad revealed
Until now, all we know was the fact that the squad consisted of 15 members whose identities have already been uncovered and three others that helped, as mentioned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Although the identity of one of this "plus three" was already revealed by the Sabah as Ahmed Abdullah A. el-Muzeyni, who is known to be the Istanbul chief of Saudi intelligence, the other two individual's identities kept their mystery until now.
The first name to be revealed is Saad Muid el-Karni, a security guard at the consulate who is actually a member of the Saudi intelligence. The other member of the squad was also working as a security guard at the consulate while he was actually a member of the intelligence service and his name was Müflis Şaya M. el-Muslih. Just like el-Muzeyni, these two people were also using a diplomatic passport. However, they were not included at the 7.5 minute long voice recording of the last minutes of Khashoggi that was shared with several countries and intelligence agencies.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, was reported missing by his fiancee Hatice Cengiz after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain marriage documents on Oct. 2.
In November, the audio recording of the moments Khashoggi was killed was reportedly given to Saudi Arabia, the U.S., France, Canada, Germany and the U.K. Director of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Gina Haspel also listened to the "compelling" audio tape of the brutal killing on late October in Ankara.
The reason behind their absence from the recording was the fact that they were not leading the execution team but the exploration team which was responsible from getting rid of the body and thus explored various places in Istanbul, arriving in the city a day before the hit squad.
7.5 minute-long recording only a fragment of whole
The 7.5 minute-long voice recording, on the other hand, was mostly revolving around the talk of Maher Abdulaziz M. Mutreb, the leader of the execution squad, and Salah Muhammed A Tubaigy, the toxicologist who was responsible from handling Khashoggi's dead body by cutting it into the pieces.
After weeks of shifting official narratives, Saudi Arabia has said the journalist was killed by a "rogue operation" and arrested 18 people allegedly connected to his death. On the same day of Khashoggi's disappearance, 15 other Saudis, many of them Saudi intelligence operatives, arrived in Istanbul and visited the consulate at the same time of the disappearance. All of the identified individuals have since left Turkey and were later arrested by Saudi authorities, including Mutrib and Tubaigy.
The book mentions of a secret source who spoke to the writers of the book under the premise of anonymity. This source states that although Tubaigy was reported to be detained, he is actually living at a villa house in Jeddah with his family. The source said that Saudi officials told Tubaigy not to be "in the limelight," implying that not only Tubaigy bot also others who were supposed to be detained are not actually under arrest but only pursue a secluded life.
Turkish officials have repeatedly suggested that the murder trial be held in Turkey where the crime was committed. Saudi authorities have denied Turkey's requests and said the suspects will be tried in the kingdom.
Another thing that is revealed in the book is the fact that the voice recordings are not made up of that 7.5 minute long piece. As a matter of fact, the recordings are much more comprehensive and long. For instance, a recording that belongs to the one hour before Khasshoggi was killed includes the speeches of Mutreb, el-Tubaigy and el-Harbi. These recordings show that the three murderers say that they will first tell Khashoggi that he will be taken to Riyadh and if he refuses, he will be killed. According to the book, these recordings were actually the ones that convinced Haspel the murder was planned and not a result of a sudden decision.
The recordings also show that before the murder Tubaigy says that he is good at "cutting."
"I've never worked on a warm body so far but I can easily handle him [Khashoggi]. Normally, when I'm cutting cadavers, I would put on my headphones and listen music. I'd also drink my coffee at the same time," Tubaigy says in the records. Previously, the media sources shared that Tubaigy was listening music while cutting Khashoggi's body. However, the recordings show that although he normally listens music, there is no evidence of him listening music in this case.
Khashoggi stayed calm despite knowing he will be killed
When Khashoggi was told, as promised by the murderers before, that he will be brought to Riyadh, he refuses. Then, Mutreb says that if he cooperates, he would be forgiven. Then, asks him to send a message to his son Salah who is in Riyad that ensures he is in Istanbul and safe. "If you can't reach me for a while, don't worry," the killers wanted Khashoggi to write to his son via text message. However, he refused to do that as well. Then, Khashoggi asks in the recordings: "Are you going to kill me? Are you going to strangle me?"
The book states that when he finally understood that he will not come out alive from the building; Khashoggi still remained cool and stand still. Then, with the order of Mutreb, five of the hit squad attacks Khashoggi to strangle him by covering his head with a nylon bag. According to the recordings, the last sentence of Khashoggi was, "Do not cover my mouth, I've asthma. You'll going to strangle me." Reportedly, Khashoggi resists for five minutes to his killers.
CIA director became emotional
According to the book, the recordings of these five minutes are so dramatic that even the intelligence members who have experience over these issues and thus have astuteness had quite discomfort while listening. Even Haspel was reportedly emotional while listening the recordings and the voice of the translator who translated from Arabic to English was also trilled. After listening to the recordings, Haspel tells Hakan Fidan that this is a success that can be achieved "once or twice in the history of intelligence," and congratulates him.
The incident takes place at the office of the kingdom's Istanbul Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi and he did not say anything like "don't do this in my room" as it was claimed by the media. Another claim that was all over the media but was actually wrong is Mutreb's calling someone from the consulate and saying "tell boss, the deed is done." According to the book, there is no evidence on that matter. The New York Times reported in November that Mutreb called a superior and told "tell your boss," who media reports suggest was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also widely known as MBS, to confirm that the "mission was carried out" and the "deed is done."
The claim of a local collaborator that was first mentioned by the Saudis is another idea that is falsified in the book, which states that it was an attempt of kingdom to "manipulate" the case. Previously, Riyadh had mentioned the existence of a local collaborator in the case. Yet, when Turkey asked Riyadh to identify them, the claim of a local collaborator was later denied by Saudi Prosecutor Saud Al-Mojeb during his visit to Istanbul on Oct.30.
Meanwhile, the books also enlightens readers on the questions about the recordings, since there were many claims in the media regarding the issue, implying that they were unlawfully achieved and Turkey was deliberately listening the building. In reality, the recordings were automatically saved, meaning that Turkey did not deliberately listened the building and saved the records.
There are also the recordings of phone traffic between Istanbul and Riyadh, starting from Sept.28, the day that Khashoggi first entered to the consulate to demand papers regarding his marriage. The records show that the murder was started to be planned on that day.
The process of dismembering Khashoggi's body after his killing lasts for half an hour, according to the recordings and the operation is being done with an autopsy chainsaw. During the process, the book states that the personnel that were present in the scene feel bad and nauseated and Tubaigy shouts at them asking, "Why are you standing like that?" According to the book, there is also no evidence on how the Saudis got rid of the Khashoggi's body, including any findings on removing the body through acid.
Following the incident, the consulate is being cleared from the residuals of the crime in three stages. Firstly, the murderers themselves clear the consulate roughly. Then, the personnel of the consulate make a more proper cleaning on the same day's afternoon. Lastly, the real, most detailed cleaning takes place after nine days passed from the murder with the arrival of two experts on the issue: a chemist, Halid Yahya el-Zehrani and a toxicologist, Ahmet Abdülaziz el-Cenubi. These two people, known in intelligence terms as "wipers," came with an 11-membered Saudi group that visited Turkey following the incident with the claim of helping to uncover the murder. This last cleaning lasted for a week, until Turkish intelligence teams examine the consulate on Oct.17.
Possible reason behind killing: The 'bee army' project
The book also seeks answers for the reasons why Khashoggi was murdered. Khashoggi is known as a dissident figure that was highly critical of the MBS, the kingdom's crown prince. However, according to Ömer Abdulaziz, a close friend of Khashoggi and an activist based in Canada who gave an exclusive interview to the writers of the book, the journalist was more than a critique of the Saudi government. He was actually working on a joint project with Abdulaziz, named the "army of the bees."
This social media army was supposed to be consisting of the Saudi dissidents who aim to show the realities of the kingdom against the trolls of MBS who are also known as the "flies of MBS" and quite active on social media and do whatever it takes to glorify the Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was even personally invested in the project by giving $5,000 to Abdulaziz, promising he will find more from other Saudi dissidents. Knowing these works of Khashoggi, the Saudi government was seeing the journalist as a threat, Abdulaziz claimed. Revealing his text messages with Khasoggi, Abdulaziz show that Khashoggi was mentioning of MBS by saying that he is like a "pac-man."
Khashoggi's murder prompted an unprecedented international outcry and forced many countries to reassess their ties with Riyadh. Although Saudi officials have denied numerous times that the royal family and MBS had any prior knowledge of the murder, all the evidences were pointing at the crown prince as the mastermind.
Today, with the inclusion of these new details on the matter, the international community has almost all the information about the Khashoggi case. However, one question remains unanswered: Where is Khashoggi's body?
Şeyma Nazlı Gürbüz / Daily Sabah