The story about the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a permanent resident of the US, who disappeared after entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, has taken a very ominous turn with grisly rumors about what might have happened to him.
It’s not yet certain what happened to Khashoggi, who wrote columns for The Washington Post. But media reports have uncovered a growing mound of information indicating he was killed by Saudi operatives while he was visiting the country’s consulate in Istanbul last week. Saudi officials deny this, saying Khashoggi left the consulate safe and sound.
The latest reports, in Turkish and international media, offer details of how Khashoggi might have been dismembered and identify specific members of a Saudi team alleged to have killed him.
The Post reported Tuesday night that prior to Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence officials had intercepted discussions among Saudi officials about capturing him. Citing unnamed sources, the Post said the plan was to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and grab him there.
All the evidence points to Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) as the person who ordered the disappearance because Khashoggi had been writing critical pieces about him and his reckless and murderous war against Yemen. MBS has cultivated close ties with the Trump family, especially Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and also with US media. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has been fawning over MBS as the Saudi herald of a Saudi Arab spring.
In response to the furor raised about Khashoggi’s disappearance, MBS had reportedly demanded to speak with Kushner.
The White House said Wednesday that the powerful Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had spoken about Khashoggi the previous day with White House national security adviser John Bolton and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner and the crown prince, who is commonly referred to as MBS, are known to be close.
A former administration official told POLITICO that MBS had demanded the call earlier in the week after the top official at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh asked MBS directly about the Khashoggi case. The crown prince denied any wrongdoing in his conversation with that embassy official, the former official said.
“The question is, ‘What message has the leadership of Saudi Arabia received from the United States about what does or does not cross a line for us?’” said Jeffrey Prescott, a senior Middle East aide to former President Barack Obama, who had a tense relationship with Riyadh.
Zaid JIlani and Ryan Grim write that the shocking rumors about Khashoggi are putting a strain on the strong US-Saudi alliance.
Turkish officials, meanwhile, while remaining anonymous, have said that a team of 15 Saudis, many of them part of bin Salman’s personal guard, traveled in two private planes to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi was scheduled to venture into the consulate, and left that same day. The professional backgrounds of the Saudis give it the clear markings of a kill or capture squad, and official Turkish sources have said that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in the consulate. Surveillance video shows Khashoggi walking into the consulate, but never walking out. NBC News reported that Khashoggi checked his phone just before heading in but has not checked it since. (The Intercept has independently confirmed this claim.)
The Saudis, meanwhile, have denied any wrongdoing. Their official line is that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after his arrival, but they have not offered surveillance footage or any other evidence to back up that assertion.
It looks like MBS is seeking to use his clout with the Trump White House, as well as the lucrative arms sales the US makes to that country, as leverage to try and make this story go away. The fact that Khashoggi is a columnist for a major American newspaper is the one thing that might make his task more difficult.