Erdogan says order to kill Khashoggi ‘came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.’
ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, writing in The Washington Post on Friday, said that the order to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi “came from the highest levels of the Saudi government” and that “certain Saudi officials” were trying to cover up the crime.
“Our friendship with Riyadh, which goes back a long time, doesn’t mean we will turn a blind eye to the premeditated murder that unfolded in front of our very eyes,” Erdogan wrote in an article for The Post’s Global Opinions section. He concluded, in part, by saying, “We must reveal the identities of the puppetmasters behind Khashoggi’s killing.”
He did not name the officials he believes are covering up information nor offer new evidence for high-level Saudi involvement.
Erdogan’s comments, which coincided with the one-month mark since Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, were his most direct attack yet on the Saudi government and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As other Middle Eastern states, including Israel, have come to Saudi Arabia’s defense in recent weeks, Turkey has relentlessly demanded answers from the Saudi government. In the face of those demands, Riyadh has offered shifting accounts of how Khashoggi was killed.
This Turkish campaign has invited speculation about whether Erdogan is aiming to sideline Mohammed, whose regional policies have clashed with Turkey’s interests and whom Erdogan is said to personally dislike.
While the Turkish leader did not implicate Mohammed in the killing, he also did not mention the crown prince by name — even as he absolved Mohammed’s father, King Salman, of any responsibility.
“I do not believe for a second that King Salman, the custodian of the holy mosques, ordered the hit on Khashoggi,” Erdogan wrote. “Therefore, I have no reason to believe that his murder reflected Saudi Arabia’s official policy.”
Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, was killed by Saudi agents inside the consulate but has insisted that they were acting outside the state’s authority. Saudi authorities have arrested 18 people, and five officials have been fired, including two of Mohammed’s top aides, the government said. It has not elaborated on what connection, if any, the pair had to Khashoggi’s death.
Turkey’s prosecutor said this week that the Saudi agents strangled Khashoggi almost immediately after he entered the consulate on Oct. 2 and then dismembered his body. Turkey has not publicly presented evidence for its accusations, such as an audio recording Turkish officials say captured Khashoggi’s killing.
“We have shared the evidence with our friends and allies, including the United States,” Erdogan wrote on Friday.
Erdogan’s government has demanded the extradition of the 18 suspects and in recent days accused Saudi officials of obstructing the investigation by withholding key evidence, including the location of Khashoggi’s body. Erdogan also wrote that it was “deeply concerning” that the Saudis had taken no action against Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul general in Istanbul, who reportedly left Turkey two weeks after Khashoggi’s death.
The latest Turkish recriminations came as Saudi Arabia received support from an unlikely ally — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Friday described the killing of Khashoggi as “horrendous” but warned against any response that would destabilize the political status quo in Riyadh.
Israel had been publicly silent during the global firestorm over Khashoggi’s death, although Western officials say that, behind the scenes, it has told the Trump administration that Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner in a region where U.S. policy is focused on countering Iran.
“What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous, and it should be duly dealt with,” Netanyahu said, speaking in the Bulgarian town of Varna. “Yet at the same time I say it, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”
“I think that a way must be found to achieve both goals,” he said, “because the larger problem is Iran, and we have to make sure that Iran does not continue the malign activities.”
Netanyahu has also made note of Israel’s improving relations with Saudi Arabia, as well as several other Arab countries, in recent months. Sometimes this has come in reference to what he views as a shared strategic threat from Iran; other times he has mentioned it in the wider context of a regional peace plan that would bypass the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s comments drew swift praise from Khalid bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, which is a strong ally of Saudi Arabia.
In a message posted to Twitter, Khalid said that the Israeli prime minister had “a clear vision to the stability of the region and the role of Saudi Arabia to keep that stability.”\
Analysts suggested Friday that Netanyahu had decided to publicly back Saudi Arabia and Mohammed to encourage a sense of indebtedness in the future.
“Netanyahu also sees here an opportunity to score points with bin Salman in case he stays in power and continues to rule Saudi Arabia,” said Ofer Zalzberg, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Israeli-Palestinian issues. Such a display of public support for the crown prince at a sensitive political moment could have “significant potential gains down the line,” Zalzberg said.
Elsewhere, the fallout from Khashoggi’s killing continued, with Norway saying that it had summoned its Saudi ambassador.
“We have raised the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and presented our point of view to the Saudi ambassador several times after it was known,” Ine Eriksen, the Norwegian foreign minister, said in a statement. “We underlined how seriously we take this issue.”Human rights groups also have escalated calls for action against the Saudi government, citing the chilling effect that Khashoggi’s killing would have on rights defenders around the world.
A letter to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres signed by more than 100 writers, journalists, artists and activists called on Guterres to “immediately authorize an independent, international investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and apparent murder.”
“If true, the murder of a journalist inside a diplomatic facility would constitute nothing less than an act of state terror intended to intimidate journalists, dissidents, and exiled critics the world over,” it continued, according to PEN America, which distributed the letter.