Jamal Khashoggi Case: A contemporary thriller
Too many questions and too few answers have surfaced after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared from Istanbul on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary
Jamal Khashoggi (59) walked into the Saudi Consulate at Istanbul around 1.14 pm on October 2 this year. He handed over his cell phone to his fiancée Hatice Cengiz and asked her to wait for him. If something happened to him inside, he told her, she should call an advisor to President Erdogan of Turkey, with whom he was friendly.
Hatice Cengiz waited for eleven hours, long after the consulate closed for the day. The guard outside said there was nobody inside and everyone had left. Khashoggi had not come out of the front entrance. She then called the police and informed Khashoggi’s friend.
The Saudi journalist, in ‘self-exile’ in Washington since last year, had gone to the consulate to collect papers to prove that he had indeed divorced his wife who had remained in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Consulate claimed that Khashoggi had collected the papers and left, possibly from the rear door.
By Saturday, October 6, Turkish Police let it be known that they suspected Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate and his body or parts of his body smuggled out. In any case, investigators told the media that the CCTV footage proved he had not exited from the front door. Nor had he exited from the rear, judging by the CCTV footage of a camera installed at a preschool opposite the rear door.
Saudis dismissed the allegation as outrageous and said they were themselves worried about the journalist’s safety. They allowed a group of journalists to visit the consulate and inspect it, apparently opening cupboards for them to take a look. This week they allowed Turkish police’s entry into the consulate and see for themselves that Khashoggi was not held captive inside.
The Washington Post meanwhile reported that US Intelligence Agencies had intercepts which revealed Saudis were planning to ‘capture’ the journalist.
More details tumbled out when investigators found that two Gulfstream jets hired by the Saudis had landed in Istanbul that day. The first one had landed before dawn on October 2 and the officials who checked into a five-star hotel, had reached the consulate and were waiting inside when Khashoggi walked in. This plane took off from Istanbul at 10.45 pm and headed to Dubai.
Turkish police claims Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate
The second plane landed in Istanbul at 5.15 pm in the afternoon and took off after just one hour and 15 minutes and headed back to Riyadh via Cairo. Who were the 15 officials who flew in and out of Istanbul that day? What was their mission and why would they leave the same day, asked the police.
Worse, some of these officials had left the consulate in a convoy of six vehicles with tinted glasses and diplomatic number plates. When they reached the main road, three of them turned to the left while the remaining three turned to the right.
A Mercedes van, again with tinted glasses, left the consulate two hours after Khashoggi had walked in. It was driven 500 meters to the residence of the Saudi head of the mission, where it remained for four hours.
Turkish investigators have learnt that CCTV footage of that day had been removed from the residence. And Turkish employees serving at the residence were ‘hastily’ told to leave for the day. So, is Jamal Khashoggi still alive? Was he overpowered, drugged and flown back to Saudi Arabia to face retribution for being critical? or, was he killed in the consulate itself and his body smuggled out?
With every passing day, chances of the journalist returning alive are receding. But neither US President Donald Trump, who has had long business relations with the House of Saud, nor Erdogan, the Turkish President, are willing to rock the boat for the sake of a journalist. Turkey has strained relations with SA and had supported Qatar in its standoff with the Saudis. But then, Turkey also is a major trade partner and would not like to annoy both the US and Saudi Arabia.