Saudi-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 59, disappeared in mysterious circumstances on October 2, 2018, after he had entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul
His dream was to begin a new life with a new wife in Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, after a period of self-imposed exile in the United States. He had fulfilled all but one requirement; but to accomplish that dream, there was a twist in fate.
Saudi-born journalist and activist, Jamal Khashoggi, 59, disappeared in mysterious circumstances on October 2, 2018, after he had entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a report demanded by the Islamic authorities to prove that he had officially divorced his former Saudi wife, before his planned wedding with his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, 23, could be approved.
He first visited the consulate on September 28, 2018, to make a formal request for the report. He had thought that it would be safer for him to go to the consulate in Istanbul. He had no premonition that he would not leave the building alive once he entered. Apparently, between September 28 and October 2, when a consulate official named Sultan called him to come to collect the report, discussions had taken place between the consulate and Riyadh on what ‘treatment’ should be given to Khashoggi.
Though Khashoggi was confident that the consulate officials would issue him the document, he, however, took some precautions. He asked Cengiz to accompany him. Cengiz reportedly waited for him outside the building while he entered. A friend of Khashoggi reportedly said he “worried that he might face interrogation by the Saudis, but nothing more.”
He was wrong. For Cengiz, it turned out to be the longest wait ever in her life. She saw the ominous signs only after it became clear to her that her fiancé wasn’t coming out of the building.
Once it dawned on her that something unusual has happened, she raised the alarm by putting a call to Khashoggi’s friends in the Turkish government who in turn took necessary steps to inform President Tayyip Erdogan of the sad news.
Cengiz reportedly said when Khashoggi did not emerge quickly, she at first hoped he had got the document and was talking with consul staff: “But when time passed and employees started leaving the building and he still wasn’t out, I panicked.”
Cengiz did not stop there. Using the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist, she appealed to President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, to immediately intervene, believing that her fiancé was still alive. She asked the US first couple to “help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance.”
Writing in words that touch the heart, she said: “Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive. Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned.”
She described her fiancé as “a valuable person, an exemplary thinker and a courageous man who has been fighting for his principles,” adding “I don’t know how I can keep living if he was abducted or killed in Turkey.”
Cengiz told Reuters that “Jamal bought an apartment in Istanbul and we were furnishing our new home.”
The disappearance of Khashoggi has since escalated the frosty relations between Istanbul and Riyadh. It has also provoked the ire of the international community, particularly human rights activists, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) even as Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied being culpable in the journalist’s disappearance. Consulate officials insisted that Khashoggi left the building after he had been attended to, a claim that has been punctured by facts on ground.
Khashoggi could not have walked out of the building without seeing Cengiz who was waiting for him. While the footage of the CCTV camera in the building showed Khashoggi entering the building, it did not show him leaving the building. In other words, his footsteps went one way and did not return from the building.
For two weeks, the Turkish government worked round the clock to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Khashoggi. Each move pointed to one fact: he was abducted and killed by agents of the Saudi government. Several leads gave credence to this conclusion.
The strongest of the leads was the evidence got from the memory of the black Apple Watch Khashoggi was wearing when he entered the building. He had connected it to his mobile phone which he left with his fiancée.
According to Turkish newspaper Sabah, the consulate officials realised too late that the Apple Watch was recording when Khashoggi was being tortured and killed. The pro-government, privately owned daily said experts were able to gain access to the memory of the Apple Watch through the recordings transmitted to the mobile phone.
The paper reportedly said, “Saudi intelligence agents had realised after he died that the watch was recording and initially tried to gain access by guessing Khashoggi’s PIN, then using his finger to unlock it and delete some files, but not all of them.”
The recordings were subsequently recovered from his iPhone and iCloud account, the Independent newspaper reported. The watch can record audio, which can sync with an iPhone over a Bluetooth connection, though it is unclear whether data from Khashoggi’s watch could have been transmitted to his phone outside or how investigators could have retrieved the data without obtaining the watch itself. It came after US intelligence officials told the Washington Post they had been presented with video and audio recordings of the murder.
Why Saudi government is prime suspect
Turkish newspapers reported that investigators have identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team involved in the disappearance of Khashoggi. The 15 Saudis had arrived Istanbul in a private jet on October 2, the same day Khashoggi was at the consulate. The Saudis left Istanbul the same day, apparently after their ‘secret’ assignment had been completed. The Saudi government is yet to comment on this angle of the story of Khashoggi’s disappearance.
But it is instructive that Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia last year following repeated threats to his life by people suspected to be agents of government. He was an unrepentant critic of his country’s government. Indeed, he was a thorn in the flesh of the Saudi government. He was opposed to the crackdown on dissidents, particularly intellectuals and activists; he questioned the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the Yemen civil war and the sanctions imposed on Qatar, he also accused the royal family of misusing the country’s oil wealth and called for reform.
His had a turbulent tenure as editor-in-chief of Saudi Arabia’s reform newspaper, Al Watan, because of his fiery articles, which made government uncomfortable. In 2003, he was sacked two months into his tenure, according to reports. He was again forced to resign in 2007 after he was appointed editor-in-chief of the newspaper for the second time. His forced resignation followed his criticism of top members of the Salafism, a branch of Sunni Islam. Khashoggi was very critical of “the growing influence of the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia.”
As part of efforts to check him, government “ordered him to stop writing and tweeting.” He fled the country “as other writers, including several friends, were detained in a crackdown on dissent in September 2017.” According to reports, no fewer than 15 journalists and bloggers have been arrested in Saudi Arabia since September 2017. It is of note that Khashoggi knew so much about the inside workings of the government. He had once served as an adviser to the country’s former intelligence chief and ambassador to the US and UK, Prince Turki al-Faisal. Of course, he could not have been in the good books of the current leadership, considering the fact that he was a confidant of billionaire
investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was detained for three months over alleged corruption and money laundering after Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman took over power.
CNBC quoted Saudi officials as saying at the time that they had reached a settlement with the prince, allowing his release. Prince Alwaleed maintained he was innocent, saying his detention was the result of a “misunderstanding.”
International community reacts
US lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, have called for action against Saudi Arabia. They want Washington to halt the sale of arms to the country even as Trump has said, “I actually think we’d be punishing ourselves if we did that.” Trump told reporters at the White House, “There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong and we’ll do them.”
Trump reportedly said at the weekend that his administration won a $110 billion military order from Saudi Arabia and the deal, combined with Saudi commitments to invest heavily in the United States, was worth hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.
“If they don’t buy it from us, they’re going to buy it from Russia or they’re going to buy it from China,” he said. “Think of that, $110 billion. All they’re going to do is give it to other countries, and I think that would be very foolish.”
On its part, Britain has called on Riyadh to explain what it knows about Khashoggi’s disappearance. UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said: “Violence against journalists worldwide is going up and is a grave threat to freedom of expression. If media reports prove correct, we will treat the incident seriously, friendships depend on shared values.”
UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said: “We call for cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and make the findings public.”
Similarly, EU policy chief Federica Mogherini said the Union fully supports the stance of the US that Riyadh should investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance.
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