Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi

Written by Palwasha Khan 11:47 am

The Gruesome Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi

In 2018, the world witnessed the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi – a Saudi-born Washington Post columnist known for his criticism of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman – in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The author, Palwasha Khan, explains that Saudi Arabia had used an assassination squad to eliminate Khashoggi. Though Saudi Arabia denied its involvement in the murder, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) affirmed that the journalist was killed on the crown prince’s orders. Moreover, the death of Khashoggi sparked a diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and several of its closest allies, including the US.
Tameer e Khalaq

About the Author(s)

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Ms. Palwasha Khan is a student of International Relations at the National Defence University Islamabad.

Who was Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi, a native of Saudi Arabia, was a well-known journalist, a Saudi-born Washington Post columnist, and a United States resident. Khashoggi documented key stories, including the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan and the ascent of the deceased Al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, for several Saudi news outlets. The comments of Jamal Khashoggi on Saudi Arabia were what led to his assassination in 2018.

He was close to the Saudi royal family for years and acted as a government consulate. In 2017, after falling out of favor, his exile led him to the United States. He began writing for The Washington Post, criticizing the Saudi royal family, particularly the policies of King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and the country’s de facto ruler. 

Jamal Khashoggi Disappears

In May 2018, Khashoggi met a 36-year-old Turkish Ph.D. student named Hatice Cengiz, to whom he was soon engaged. Four months later, the journalist paid his first visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document proving his divorce from his former wife, in order to marry Cengiz.

However, Khashoggi returned to the consulate in October, this time accompanied by Cengiz who was waiting outside. Cengiz was directed to contact Yasin Atkay—a close aide of the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan—in case of emergency. After three hours, Cengiz inquired the staff about Khashoggi only to learn that he had already left the building from the back door.

On 3rd October, Saudi authorities confirmed Khashoggi’s disappearance by insisting that he had left the consulate. A spokesperson for the Turkish presidency claimed otherwise. The foreign ministry of Turkey summoned the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to question the disappearance of Khashoggi. In response, the ambassador informed that he was oblivious of Khashoggi’s whereabouts.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman stressed the fact that Khashoggi was not held inside the Saudi consulate and that he is not against the investigation. A few days later, gruesome details began to emerge in media reports claiming that Khashoggi may have been killed.

Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin
“Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin” by The Kremlin, Moscow is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The Murder of Khashoggi

While President Erdogan remained hopeful, Atay was firm that he was killed inside the building. Atay added that a team of 15-men was involved in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. The former US president, Donald Trump, also expressed his concern regarding the disappearance of the journalist.

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The Washington Post began to report that the US intelligence agency intercepted communications of several Saudi officials planning to abduct Khashoggi. As time passed by, the Turkish authorities and investigators learned more about his abrupt disappearance and began to solve the puzzle. Several of the Turkish media houses published images of an alleged assassination squad of 15-Saudis, involved in the abduction and killing of the journalist.

On October 10th, 2018, renowned news outlet BBC began reporting that Turkish media had pictures and names that were part of the assassination squad. On the other hand, the New York Times disclosed that Khashoggi was dismembered with a bone saw, two hours after he was executed. Moreover, video footage confirmed that Khashoggi entered the consulate and that there were suspicious movements inside the building after he disappeared.

On the 15th of October, Turkish and Saudi officials conducted a thorough investigation. They arrived with a joint team led by Istanbul’s deputy general prosecutor and counterterrorism agents. That evening, Turkish forensic investigators were permitted to search the consulate. They worked the entire day, until dawn, on the 16th of October.

The forensic team left the building with samples of soil and a metal door from the consulate garden. However, a Saudi team, including a chemist and a toxicologist, deliberately destroyed evidence at the consulate and the consul’s residence. Turkish officials claimed that the evidence confirms the suspicions surrounding the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. Not only this, but the investigators also entered the Saudi consul’s home to search for Khashoggi.

The case developed as the media reported that he was killed within minutes of entering the consulate. Upon hearing this, Trump believed that the journalist was, indeed, killed. Therefore, on the 20th of October, it was confirmed that Khashoggi had died on October 2, inside the consulate. As a result, 18 nationals and 5 senior government officials were arrested.

The Aftermath

The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi drew widespread condemnation and sparked a diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and several of its closest allies, including the US. Following Saudi Arabia’s confirmation of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, then-US president, Donald Trump, called it the worst cover-up. He did, though, defend the US’ ties to Saudi Arabia, which is a major trading partner.

President Erdogan accused Saudi Arabia of planning the murder prior to October 2, the day Khashoggi was killed. The president questioned Saudi authorities regarding the planning and ordering of the killing. Moreover, Turkish officials claimed that they had acquired audio recordings of the planning with several governments, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Saudi Arabia.

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On November 10th, the search for Khashoggi’s body ended. Interestingly, Germany, France, and Finland canceled arms deals with the kingdom after the confirmation of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. On the other hand, the Saudis indicted 11 people involved in the killing and put them on trial at the Riyadh Criminal Court. The court said that it will award the death penalty to five of them who ordered and oversaw the murder.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) affirmed that the journalist was killed on Mohammad bin Salman’s orders in Istanbul. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, however, denied those allegations and argued that the claims of the CIA were false. Trump emphasized the need for the strengthening of Saudi-US ties, ensuring the US relationship with the kingdom regardless of the allegations against it. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a comprehensive investigation into the murder.

In Saudi Arabia, the trial of the 11 suspects began with the accused attending the hearing along with their lawyers. The attorneys demanded the death penalty for five of the suspects. The United Nations’ human rights office said that the trial is not sufficient, demanding an independent investigation with international involvement. Therefore, a team led by Agnes Callamard, a former special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, began an investigation into the murder. On June 19th, 2019, Callamard calls out the prince and other Saudi officials for the killing and appeals for an investigation.

The case develops as the Turkish media releases audio recordings of the murder, including the conversation between Khashoggi and several members of the 15-men squad. The US Congress passed a defense bill comprising a provision demanding that the national intelligence provide an unclassified report on the evidence regarding the prince’s involvement in the murder, within 30 days of enactment. However, President Trump refused to share the report, claiming that it would compromise the intelligence office’s sources and methods.

At the end of 2019, 8 out of the 11 suspects were convicted of the murder, with five sentenced to death. In the May of 2020, Khashoggi’s son Salah forgives the perpetrators of his father on Twitter. As a result, the death sentences were commuted, and the convicted men were sentenced to 20 years in prison. While in Turkey, a trial opens of 20 men in absentia. In October 2020, Cengiz and several human rights activists filed a lawsuit against the Saudi crown prince in Washington DC’s district court.

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At the start of Joe Biden’s presidency in February 2021, he pledged to recalibrate ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was also reported that President Biden would release the unclassified report of the intelligence. The report did, however, place the blame on the prince for the murder of Khashoggi in the same month. 

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

When Khalid Bin Salman, the brother of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, visited the US to meet President Biden in July 2021, it raised many questions and erupted into criticism from rights activists and anti-war advocates. He also visited the Pentagon and met with several top officials of the US government.

US President Biden and his administration were censured for maintaining a working relationship with the kingdom. Biden wants Saudi Arabia’s cooperation on a multitude of issues, mainly on Iran’s nuclear program, Lebanon’s incessant crisis, and the ongoing war in Yemen. Biden hoped to gain Saudi approval to a renewed Iran nuclear weapons prohibition by hosting Khalid, while also continuing profitable arms sales to the oil-rich kingdom.

In November 2021, a Turkish court requested the authorities to investigate the defendants on trial in absentia, already facing charges in the kingdom, for Khashoggi’s murder, in order to avoid a retrial for the same offense in Turkey. The next hearing is scheduled for 22nd February 2022.

Recently, a native of Saudi Arabia named Khaled Aedh Alotaibi was arrested in France on the suspicion of involvement in the Khashoggi murder case. He was believed to be one of the Saudis wanted by Turkey until, news began to surface that it was a case of mistaken identity and thus, the man was released. The Saudi authorities reiterated saying that Alotaibi had nothing to do with the assassination.


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