Saudi Arabia keeps changing the narrative on Khashoggi

For more than two weeks, Saudi Arabia denied any role in the disappearance of Washington Post journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi after he entered its consulate, above, in Istanbul on Oct 2 to collect some documents ahead of his marriage with his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.

The consulate insisted that Khashoggi left soon after gathering the papers but failed to produce any video clip to support the claim.

The narrative changed after Turkish media focused on audio tapes with investigators that “proved” Khashoggi was “murdered” in the Saudi consulate.

Besides the tapes, investigators found DNA evidence on the ground floor of the consul general’s residence where Khashoggi’s body was said to have been taken. Following this, their search extended to a forest in Istanbul.

The investigators also questioned Turkish employees at the consulate including the driver, searched the consular van that carried Khashoggi’s body and examined video footage captured by CCTV cameras at the consulate, consul general’s home and Istanbul international airport.

Maybe, after realising that Turkish investigators were inching towards the truth behind Khashoggi’s disappearance, Saudi Arabia announced on Friday (Oct 19) that Khashoggi “died” in a “fist fight” with some members of a Saudi team at the consulate soon after his arrival.

France, Britain, Germany, Australia, Canada, the EU and UN were not convinced by Riyadh’s belated admission. They wanted to know the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body.

Amid growing scepticism, an unidentified Saudi official told Reuters on Oct 20 that Riyadh remained tight-lipped on the Khashoggi case because the initial information from within was misleading prompting the authorities to order a thorough investigation. The probe is still going on and Riyadh probably thought it the right time to divulge the crucial fact emerging from the investigation so far.

According to the official, the 15-member Saudi team went to Istanbul as part of a campaign to persuade dissidents staying overseas to return to their homeland instead of acting like tools for the kingdom’s enemies.

According to a standing order, members of such mission were giving some powers to act on their own instead of seeking Riyadh’s instructions and approval at every step.

In Khashoggi’s case, some team members overstepped the orders by turning violent and using force leading to his death. According to the official, the team had no intention to kill Khashoggi.

But things went out of control when Khashoggi raised his voice after being told he would be drugged and kidnapped if he did not quietly return to Saudi Arabia.

To prevent the dissident from making a big noise, some members of the team placed him in a chokehold and covered his mouth. Unfortunately, the 59-year-old Khashoggi died.

According to the official, the team’s plan was to move Khashoggi to a safe house in Istanbul for “a period of time”. If he still refused to return to Saudi Arabia, the 15-member team would fly back to Riyadh after making arrangements to free him.

He said Khashoggi’s body was rolled up in a rug and handed over to a local “co-operator” for disposal.

Turkey does not think it was a mission that went horribly wrong. They believe the events that unfolded at the Saudi consulate on Oct 2 were scripted and the Saudi team was authorised to use force.

While the unidentified official described the 15 members in the Saudi mission as “negotiators”, Ankara said they were members of an “assassination squad.”

After the official’s long explanation, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir gave another dimension to the story by telling Fox News on Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no role in Khashoggi’s “murder.”

According to al-Jubeir, this “rogue operation” was conducted by individuals outside the scope of their authority. Senior leadership of Saudi intelligence service was not aware of this plot. The individuals behind it made a “tremendous mistake” by trying to cover up the crime.

He said Riyadh is clueless about Khashoggi’s body. Riyadh’s three explanations on the slain journalist failed to convince  many world leaders over their silence or lack of clarity on the whereabouts of his body.

As Saudi Arabia keeps changing the narrative on what happened to its dissident at the consulate, the world is waiting for the truth to emerge.

Did the Saudi Crown Prince order the Istanbul operation to eliminate one of his harshest critics?

Al-Jubeir says those behind Khashoggi’s killing will be punished.  Will he stick to that stand if the real culprit happens to be Mohammed bi Salman?

On October 23 (Tuesday), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to reveal full details of the Khoshoggi case. Announcing this on Sunday, Erdogan said Turkey seeks justice and opposes any cover-up.

If Turkish media’s conclusion on Khashoggi’s case is true, it will have serious legal consequences. Saudi Arabia will have to answer some hard questions if Riyadh plotted his murder.

Being an oil-rich country, Saudi Arabia enjoys certain advantages . Although US President Donald Trump is not convinced by its explanations on Khashoggi, he still wants the arms sales to the kingdom to go ahead.

But a society, however affluent it be, is third class if it kills  some citizens just because they have a different point of view. Saudi Arabia is no exception.