At 1.14pm on October 2, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul and off the face of this Earth. He vanished as if he had never existed. But the fallout from his disappearance grows by the day.
It is now widely believed that Mr Khashoggi was killed in the building by members of a 15-strong Saudi regime hit squad that had flown into the city earlier the same day.
On Monday, police and prosecutors inspected the consulate building in Istanbul for more than eight hours.
Now Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said they found fresh paint in the building where Mr Khashoggi vanished.
Horrifying: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was thrown onto a desk and dismembered by a Saudi ‘hit squad’ while he was still alive, according to an anonymous source
Jamal Khashoggi (right) arriving at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2. He has not been seen since and Turkey has accused Saudi agents of murdering him
Turkish officials believe he was killed and dismembered in the consulate. According to reports, the government has an audio recording which they have shared as evidence with Saudi Arabia and the US.
Yesterday, it was alleged that a recording suggested the journalist had had his fingers cut off one by one while still alive.
A former adviser to the inner circle of the autocratic House of Saud, rulers of the super-wealthy desert kingdom, Mr Khashoggi had become an emigre critic of its abuses. The Sauds wanted him ‘out of the picture’, he recently told a journalist.
They have succeeded, but only in the physical sense. His image is now all over the internet, newspapers and television screens.
Parallels with the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal by agents of Russia’s GRU military spy agency in Salisbury have been drawn. Here was an authoritarian regime seeking to eliminate a dissident on foreign soil in a brutal and flagrant manner.
The state-owned TV network Al Arabiya has claimed the 15 Saudis who arrived in the area on the day of Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance were tourists.
But while Vladimir Putin’s Russia is hostile to Western liberal democracies, Mr Khashoggi’s reported murder and dismemberment using a bone saw – ‘like Pulp Fiction’ – seems to have taken place on the orders of a friend of the West – someone who even took tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and was hosted at Downing Street as recently as March when a potential £65million UK-Saudi investment partnership was signed.
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, pictured in Switzerland in 2011, may have been murdered because he knew too much about the Saudi royal family, one of his friends has said
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives for talks at 10 Downing Street earlier this year
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – known as ‘MBS’ – is effectively Saudi Arabia’s ruler. He has been lauded for his ‘liberalisation’ of the Kingdom.
Saudi women are now allowed to drive. Cinemas have opened. Yet behind this window-dressing there lies a more unpalatable truth: The key Western ally in the Arab Middle East heads a murderous regime that has cracked down on human rights activists despite granting some freedoms.
Now, perhaps, the Saudis have gone too far – the Turks are sure a murder has taken place.
No doubt if audio recordings do exist, they will have been on the agenda on Tuesday after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Saudi Arabia for urgent talks with King Salman.
It was reported on the same day that the Saudis were preparing to admit they killed Mr Khashoggi when an interrogation went too far. But last night, no such admission was forthcoming.
Mr Pompeo will have done his homework and know this is not the first time the Saudis stand accused of seeking out enemies of the regime with violent intent. Over 15 years, other high-profile domestic critics have been plucked from exile by the kingdom, as we shall see.
First, though, let us look at what is known about the final days and hours of the unfortunate Jamal Khashoggi.
Since last June, the 59-year-old had been resident in America, near Washington DC, having gone into self-imposed exile because of his clashes with the Saudi regime. But he did not intend to stay in America, it seems. His ambition was to remarry and settle in Turkey. That ambition may have been the death of him. Turkey does not allow polygamous marriages. So Mr Khashoggi had to apply for the paperwork to prove his divorce from his first wife to marry his 36-year-old Turkish fiancee. That could be done only at the consulate in Istanbul.
He first visited the consulate on September 28, when he inquired about obtaining the requisite document verifying his divorce. He was told that the consulate would be unable to provide what he needed that day, but he could return the following week.
A frame grab from a police CCTV video made available through Turkish Newspaper Sabah shows a private jet alleged to have ferried in a group of Saudi men suspected of being involved in Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance
Throwing out the trash: Bags were taken out after the nine-hour overnight visit by Turkish investigators
He left the building with the phone number of an intelligence official who had helped him.
Hatice Cengiz, his fiancee, said the meeting with consular staff was ‘positive’ and they ‘welcomed him warmly and assured him that the necessary paperwork would come through’.
He was told to return four days later to collect the documentation. Four days in which a suspected murder could be planned.
At 3.28am on October 2 – just hours before Mr Khashoggi disappeared – a Gulfstream IV business jet HZ-SK2, belonging to Sky Prime Aviation Services, a Riyadh aviation firm with links to the Saudi regime, touched down at Ataturk airport in Istanbul.
It is thought to have carried nine Saudi officials and intelligence officers. One has since been identified by dissidents as Lt-Colonel Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, head of forensic evidence at the Saudi general security department, an expert in crime scenes.
Several were filmed on CCTV at passport control nine minutes later. One group checked into the five-star Movenpick hotel, close to the consulate, at 5.05am. The others went to the Wyndham Grand. They were booked for three nights but only stayed for hours.
At 9.30am, several left the Movenpick. That morning, Mr Khashoggi called the consulate and was told the papers would be ready that afternoon. His appointment was scheduled for 1pm.
Turkish police officers gather as they prepare to enter the Saudi Arabia’s Consulate as evening draws in on Monday
Claims: The anonymous source claims to have heard Mr Khashoggi’s final minutes on an audio recording made on the journalist’s own smartwatch after he entered the consulate, pictured
At 12.30pm Turkish staff at the consulate left for lunch. It has been claimed that they were told to take the afternoon off because of a high-level diplomatic meeting later.
WhatsApp records show Mr Khashoggi last viewed his messages on his US mobile at 1.06pm.
As stated, at 1.14pm a CCTV camera at the consulate entrance recorded his arrival. What the men allegedly waiting for him had probably not anticipated was that he would arrive with his fiancée.
Crucially, she said he handed her his mobile phone and told her to call an adviser to President Erdogan if anything happened to him. He was clearly still concerned for his safety. She told him she would wait near the front entrance for him. ‘Fine, my darling,’ he said, before heading into the building.
Two hours later, at 3.08pm, vehicles with diplomatic plates left the consulate with Saudi officials inside. A black Mercedes Vito with tinted windows, and another vehicle drove to consul-general Mohammed al-Otaibi’s residence.
They arrived at 3.10pm and remained for several hours.
As 4pm passed and still no sign of her fiance, Miss Cengiz was ‘overcome with fear and concern’.
She asked about him in the consular building and was told he’d already left, possibly without her noticing. She called Yasin Atkay, the adviser to the Turkish President her fiancé had mentioned, who was one his oldest friends. At 5.15pm a second Sky Prime Aviation Services Gulfstream jet, HZ-SK1, carrying six Saudi officials landed at Ataturk airport. Fifteen men linked to the alleged Khashoggi operation were now in Istanbul. They reportedly included special forces, intelligence and other military officers.
Crime scene officers from the Turkish police investigated every inch of the consulate on Monday night
Mohammad al-Otaibi, the Saudi Consul in Istanbul, left Turkey on a commercial flight on Tuesday just hours before Turkish investigators entered his residence
HZ-SK1 left Ataturk airport at approximately 6.30pm local time with some of the team aboard. It had been on the ground less than an hour. The plane flew to Riyadh via Cairo, arriving on October 3.
At 10.30pm local time, the first plane, HZ-SK2, left Ataturk for Dubai with the remaining seven members of the alleged team. By this point, Turkish authorities had been notified that Mr Khashoggi was missing, possibly kidnapped, so bags on the flight were searched, but nothing unusual was found so it were allowed to go.
At midnight, having waited 11 hours, Miss Cengiz left the Saudi consulate for home.
The official Saudi line is that Mr Khashoggi left of the consulate through a back door where, alas, CCTV security cameras had ceased to work. Indeed, they appear to have stopped working all over the building. Then, for reasons unknown, he disappeared.
There is a caveat to all this. Much of the information about Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance has come from leaks from President Erdogan’s authoritarian regime, which has a strained relationship with Saudi Arabia thanks to Mr Erdogan’s closeness to Saudi’s enemies Qatar and Iran.
But the circumstantial evidence so far is compelling. More than that, Mr Khashoggi’s apparent murder is but one example – albeit an extreme one – of the House of Saud pursuing its dissidents on foreign soil. Since 2015 three exiled royal princes have ‘disappeared’, having spoken out against corruption and other abuses.
On February 1, 2016, in Paris the dissident Prince Sultan bin Turki and his 20-strong entourage boarded a jet owned by the House of Saud. They were expecting to fly to Cairo, home of the prince’s father, the Saudi king’s elder brother. Reservations had been booked for them at the five-star Kempinski hotel next to the Nile.
With hindsight, it was foolish for Prince Sultan to have boarded. Having criticised Saudi Arabia’s corruption and human rights abuses he had fallen out with powerful family members.
Prince Sultan was given money and assurances of safe conduct. He told a friend: ‘I am supposed to come to Cairo by royal aircraft. If you didn’t find me they have taken me to Riyadh. Try to do something.’
‘Forensic expert’: Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, identified as the man in these pictures in Turkish newspapers, could reportedly be heard telling others in the squad to put headphones in while dismembering Khashoggi
Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hawsawi, left, and Muhammed Saad Alzahrani, right, identified in Turkish media as the men in these images, are both part of the royal security team
On boarding, members of his entourage noticed that it had an unusually large crew and that they were all male.
Two and a half hours into the flight came the next warning sign that they might not be heading for Cairo but Riyadh, another 1,000 miles and two and half hours flying to the south-east. The in-flight monitors showing the original destination suddenly went blank.
When the Prince realised what was happening, he began banging on the cockpit door, shouting for help. But flight attendants produced weapons to keep their passengers in line.
Members of his entourage said the plane was surrounded by military vehicles in Riyadh. The prince was taken away ‘kicking and screaming’ and begging his people to call the US embassy. That was the last they saw of him. He is still believed to be under house arrest.
Prince Turki bin Bandar was a major in the Saudi police before an inheritance dispute saw him thrown into jail. On his release, he fled to Paris where he applied for political asylum and began posting videos critical of the Saudi regime on YouTube.
He claimed to have received letters from the Saudi interior ministry saying: ‘You son of a whore, we’ll drag you back like Prince Sultan.’ Like Mr Khashoggi and Prince Sultan, he was then told he could return safely. He refused. In July 2015, he also disappeared.
It later transpired he had been arrested by the authorities while on a business trip to Morocco and handed over to Saudi Arabia.
In a note left to a friend in case of his disappearance, Prince Turki had written: ‘These statements are not to be shared unless I am kidnapped or assassinated. I know I will be kidnapped or they will assassinate me.’
A Turkish crime scene investigation team member inspects the roof of the Consulate General of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul on Monday night
Two months after Turki’s disappearance, another royal dissident, Prince Saud bin Saif, also vanished. He had been a vociferous critic of Saudi official corruption and backed calls for the removal of the Saudi King and the then Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Nayef.
This was not to be tolerated by Riyadh. According to friends, a ‘Russian-Italian business consortium’ proposed a deal. They would lay on a private jet from Milan to Rome for him, they said. He agreed. The plane took him to Riyadh where a prison cell awaited him.
A UN report on Saudi jails, conducted by Ben Emmerson QC, was damning. Mr Emmerson said: ‘Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia is undergoing the most ruthless crackdown on political dissent the country has experienced in decades.’
It is still unclear whether the growing fury in America and beyond will backfire on Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his Saudi regime, but early indications seem to suggest so.
President Trump has been reluctant to punish a key ally – particularly one with a $110billion defence deal in the balance. First he warned there would be ‘severe punishment’ if the allegations turned out to be true. But then, after talking to King Salman, he parroted the Saudi line that rogue agents could have carried out an attack.
Whether the realpolitik of international affairs trumps growing outrage over events in Istanbul is a moot point. On Friday, the official Saudi press agency said it ‘welcomed’ a joint probe with Turkey to investigate the issue.
Of course, it is entirely possible that Jamal Khashoggi might appear suddenly fine and well. But if not, his fiancee desperately wants answers as to his fate. Whether those answers will ever be forthcoming remains to be seen.