Erdoğan reveals some Khashoggi hit squad members may be dead

Published 05.02.2019 00:07

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded a full investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Sunday, saying some of 22 people that were members of the hit squad "may not be alive."

"They [Saudi Arabia] say 22 people are under arrest but according to our information, some of them may not be alive. They may have been victims of ‘traffic accidents' because the system there is working very odd," Erdoğan said during a comprehensive interview on Turkey's public broadcaster TRT.

The president suggested that Riyadh may be trying to cover up the deaths with incidents such as traffic accidents. He said he believes this to be the case since "the kingdom is far from conducting a clear and transparent investigation in the case."

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents at its consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, provoking an international outcry.

The kingdom initially denied any role in Khashoggi's disappearance before acknowledging that he was murdered inside the consulate. Riyadh quickly passed the buck to rogue agents, while insisting that the crown prince had no prior knowledge of the matter, an explanation far from convincing for many.

A Saudi public prosecutor spokesman, on the other hand, said last year that 22 Saudis were taken into custody in relation to the case, 11 of whom have been indicted and are awaiting trial. Earlier this month, the prosecutor said it was seeking the death penalty for five of the 11 detained suspects.

"We want everything to be clarified because there was an atrocity; there was a murder," Erdoğan added. He described the slaying as "out of the ordinary" and emphasized that the perpetrators must be held accountable.

Stressing that the murder was planned by 22 people, 15 of whom arrived in Istanbul on two planes and visited the consulate on the day of the killing, Erdoğan reiterated that the order to kill Khashoggi four months ago came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

Ankara has used every means available to bring those responsible to justice and to maintain international pressure. Turkish officials previously said they shared evidence with Saudi Arabia and other nations about Khashoggi's killing and repeatedly called for the suspects to be extradited to Turkey, where the crime was committed.

Saudi authorities have denied Turkey's requests and said the suspects will be tried in the kingdom. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Saturday in an op-ed that Riyadh should not be allowed to maintain normal relations with the rest of the world until the kingdom "puts on more than a show of change."

"The 33-year-old crown prince has suppressed real and perceived opponents with a brutality that is unprecedented in Saudi history, culminating in the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi," the Post's editorial board said.

"The objective here is clear: to resume normal commerce between Saudi Arabia and the democratic world and to attract desperately needed investment, without meaningful change in the regime controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It's in the interest of the United States and its allies, as well as Saudi Arabia itself, that this strategy fails," the board noted, adding that if U.S. President Donald Trump continues to maintain relations with Riyadh it will have negative long-term consequences.

In the interview, Erdoğan accused the U.S. of remaining silent over the assassination as Trump said he will not impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia or the crown prince and vowed to remain a "steadfast partner" of Riyadh.

Khashoggi's murder forced many countries to reassess their ties with Riyadh. Although Saudi officials have denied numerous times that the royal family and MBS had no prior knowledge of the murder, all evidence has been pointing to the crown prince as the mastermind. Despite more than 100 days passing since Khashoggi's assassination, the whereabouts of his body remain unknown.

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