Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was planned days in advance and was “obviously a political crime”.
Addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party this morning, Erdogan (pictured) said all the available evidence shows that “Khashoggi was the victim of a barbaric assassination”.
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“This barbaric act cannot be forgotten,” he said. “It is the whole of humanity that would pay the price for this.”
Washington Post columnist Khashoggi was last seen on 2 October when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get papers for his planned marriage.
After growing international condemnation, Saudi authorities admitted on Friday that its agents had killed the journalist and said 18 suspects are custody.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has claimed Khashoggi was killed in a “fistfight” that went wrong and as part of a “rogue operation” not sanctioned by the kingdom. Prior to that it was claimed he had left the consulate alive.
Erdogan called on Saudi King Salman and the Saudi authorities to allow Turkey to conduct a criminal investigation against “15 people who came to Turkey plus three extra people who were already employees of the consulate in Istanbul”.
“The event took place in Istanbul, therefore these 15 people plus three people, the 18 people who have been arrested, I ask that they should be judged, they should be tried and judged in Istanbul,” he said.
Erdogan today laid out the movements of suspects in the days before the murder, which he said “proves the preparations were made beforehand”.
Among them were three people who arrived from Saudi Arabia and, Erdogan said, visited a forest near Istanbul on 1 October.
“This operation was planned,” he added. “We have enough evidence to prove that the assassination was planned in advance.”
Erdogan revealed that CCTV hard drives were removed from the consulate and that staff working there were gathered in a room on 2 October and told to go home early.
He also confirmed reports and surveillance footage published yesterday, saying a man who was not Khashoggi dressed in the journalist’s clothes and glasses and left the building before leaving by plane for Saudi capital Riyadh.
He later listed a series of questions, including why did the 15 people go from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul on the same day, and why the consulate building was only opened to investigators a few days after the killing.
Erdogan also questioned whether there were any accomplices to the murder in other countries and asked where Khashoggi’s body is.
“We can’t find the body of the person who has been assassinated,” he said.
“We have been told that the body has been handed over to a national Turkish employee. I ask the question who was the local or national employee who took charge of the body.
“It’s not an ordinary person who was talking about this local person – it was a Saudi authority who was talking about this, so you have to declare who ordered this assassination?
“Until the answers are given nobody must think that this can be closed. We cannot rest on what has been closed so far.
“Our investigation team has in hand the information they need. We believe the operation was planned ahead and, as the investigations progress, we will find out exactly what happened.
“Such a problem cannot be only blamed on a few people. It doesn’t satisfy us at all. We must ask for people to be held accountable. We must find out who ordered this assassination and who executed it.
“Personally I have no doubt that the king of Saudi Arabia is sincere but an investigation of such critical importance is important. It must be carried out impartially.”
Erdogan added: “Turkey must act on behalf of the international community representing international conscience and we must investigate this case as far as possible.”
US President Donald Trump said last night he was “not satisfied” with what he has so far heard regarding Khashoggi’s death.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it. We have people over in Saudi Arabia now. We have top intelligence people in Turkey. They’re coming back either tonight or tomorrow.
“We’re going to know a lot over the next two days about the Saudi situation,” said President Trump, who spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday. “It’s a very sad thing.”
Erdogan has closed down hundreds of newspapers and imprisoned dozens of journalists in a brutal crackdown following a failed coup against him in 2016. Turkey is currently the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.
Picture: AP Photo/Ali Unal