Turkey's Erdogan says there's strong evidence to show that the Khashoggi killing was planned

Key Points
  • "Whitewashing such barbarity will of course injure and wound the conscience of all humanity," the Turkish president said in translated comments to lawmakers in Ankara.
  • Erdogan questioned the Vienna Convention (on diplomatic relations) within his statement and the immunity it affords diplomats.
  • The statement comes as Saudi Arabia launches an investment forum.
Erodgan: Strong evidence Khashoggi murder was planned
Erodgan: Strong evidence Khashoggi murder was planned

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday there was evidence to show that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a "vicious, violent murder," rejecting claims that he died in an accident.

"Whitewashing such barbarity will of course injure and wound the conscience of all humanity," he said in translated comments to lawmakers in Ankara.

Detailing the events that both led up to and followed Khashoggi's disappearance, Erdogan said there were "strong signs" that "the incident was not a momentary issue or a momentary result of something that happened on site, but rather the result of a planned operation."

He said additional information was being assessed by Turkey's security and intelligence services, but added that this points "to the fact that the incident was pre-planned, premeditated." The Turkish president revealed no formal evidence during his speech.

Addressing a number of different points, and working through the last few weeks chronologically, he said that prior to the killing a number of individuals had visited the city of Yalova and the Belgrad Forest, where searches for Khashoggi's body have since been conducted. He said that CCTV had also been removed from the consulate prior to Khashoggi's visit.

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Saudi stocks on the Tadawul index saw a slight rise as Erdogan spoke. After trading in negative territory, the index was up by around 0.4 percent after his comments.

"As it is now clear, there was a murder — and it was clear from the beginning — then why was there a slurry of incoherent statements? And now there's official acknowledgement there was a murder, where is the body? Why do we still not have the body?" Erdogan asked.

Crime and punishment

Saudi Arabia had initially denied reports of Khashoggi's death but did a U-turn on Friday and confirmed that the 59-year-old Saudi dissident had in fact died in a fight within their consulate in Istanbul.

This goes against the claims from Ergodan and Turkey, where officials had told The New York Times that they have audio evidence which proves Khashoggi was tortured, killed and subsequently dismembered by a hit team of Saudi agents. Erdogan made no mention of audio recordings in his statement on Tuesday, however.

Erdogan questioned the Vienna Convention (on diplomatic relations) within his statement Tuesday and the immunity it affords diplomats, suggesting that it should be reviewed and possibly revised. While the crime happened in the Saudi consulate, deemed to be Saudi territory, "one must not forget that that area is within the boundaries of the Republic of Turkey," he said.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint press conference with Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. 
 Burhan Ozbilici | AP

"Now our expectation is that all those responsible, from the highest level to the lowest level, will be highlighted and will be brought to justice and will get the punishment they deserve," he said, adding: "We cannot put the blame on a number of security or intelligence officials for such an incidence, it will not satisfy either us or the international community. The international conscience will only be satisfied when everyone is held accountable — the executors and the persons or the people that gave the instruction," he said.

"Personally, I don't doubt the sincerity of (Saudi Arabia's) King Salman … however, it is very, very important that there is a truly impartial and just delegation that does the investigation that looks into what happened," he said to applause from lawmakers. "Since this is a political murder, if there are other people or circles implicated in other countries they have to be included in that investigation as well."

Erdogan proposed that any trials of those involved, that he said totaled 18 people, should be held in Istanbul.

The Turkish president had signaled on Sunday that said he would make a statement about the killing of Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi royal family. The speech came after weeks of investigations by Turkish officials into the death of Khashoggi, and an international outcry over his disappearance.

Erdogan's statement comes on the same day as Saudi Arabia launches its Future Investment Initiative (FII), an investment conference in Riyadh. Many notable attendants and media organizations pulled out of the event following Khashoggi's disappearance, and the kingdom's political and business ties with the West appear more fragile.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday morning that Turkey will cooperate with any international investigation into Khashoggi's death. He said that the country had not yet shared any information with any country on the Khashoggi case yet, however, Reuters reported.

Mystery over Khashoggi's death

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told Fox News Sunday that the death of Khashoggi was "a huge and grave mistake." He said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no prior knowledge of what had happened. Erdogan made no reference to the crown prince in his statement Tuesday.

Businesses continue to pull out of the Saudi conference amid Khashoggi's death
Businesses continue to pull out of the Saudi conference amid Khashoggi's death

Khashoggi was a prominent member of Saudi society but, living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. he had criticized the crown prince in his columns for the Washington Post. Khashoggi went missing on October 2 after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in order to collect paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee.

Saudi Arabia claimed for weeks that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive but Turkish officials have consistently refuted that claim. Claims about the existence of audio recordings that corroborate Turkey's allegations have been a fixture of news reports about Khashoggi's death. The U.S. requested that evidence from Turkey but whether it was shared or not is unknown.

The U.S. is seen as a staunch ally and business partner of Saudi Arabia and, as such, it is being closely watched to see how it will react to developments in the investigation.

President Donald Trump had at first said that he found the Saudi version of events credible, but as international incredulity has been expressed, Trump has since said that the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death was not good enough. "I am not satisfied until we find the answer," Trump told reporters this weekend.