How the Saudi narrative of Khashoggi’s killing changed

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2. He was not seen since.

After initially remaining quiet and denying allegations that Khashoggi never left the consulate, Saudi Arabia has now admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, but made no mention of where his body is.

Below is a summary of how Saudi Arabia’s narrative surrounding the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death changed over the weeks as international pressure mounted.

October 2

Khashoggi entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to pick up a document certifying he divorced his ex-wife so he could remarry while his fiance, Hatice Cengiz, waited outside.

After waiting for three hours, his fiance asked the consulate’s staff for his whereabouts. They told her Khashoggi had already left the building via the backdoor.

October 5

In an interview with Bloomberg, MBS says that Khashoggi left after “a few minutes or one hour”. 

Saudi Arabia admits Khashoggi killed in Istanbul consulate

“My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I’m not sure. We are investigating this through the foreign ministry to see exactly what happened at that time.”

October 6

Saudi Arabia’s consul in Istanbul reopened to prove that Khashoggi was not at its premises and said that “talk of his kidnapping was baseless”, according to Reuters.

“I would like to confirm that … Jamal is not at the consulate nor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the consulate and the embassy are working to search for him,” consul-general Mohammad al-Otaibi told Reuters.

October 8

In an unsolicited Whatsapp message to Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, MBS’ younger brother Prince Khaled bin Salman denied allegations that Saudi Arabia had any role in the death of Khashoggi.

“I assure you that the reports that suggest that Jamal Kashoggi went missing in the consulate in Istanbul or that the kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false and baseless,” he wrote.

“Do you have footage of him leaving the consulate?” Swan replied. The reporter didn’t receive an answer.

October 10

Turkish media published images of an alleged 15-member Saudi “assassination squad” and video of suspicious movements at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul following Khashoggi’s disappearance.

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Saudi Arabia remained silent as the images played across television networks in Turkey and the world, and did not offer definitive proof about Khashoggi’s fate.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya criticised the media coverage, writing in an article: “The mystery over missing Saudi journalist Jamal Kashhoggi has been riddled with misreported news, dubious sources and orchestrated media campaigns.”

October 11

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumours” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi.

Saudi officials maintained he left the consulate shortly after entering, though failed to provide evidence to back that up, such as video footage.

Al Arabiya wrote that the 15-member Saudi team were “tourists falsely accused of killing Khashoggi”.

October 12

A delegation from Saudi Arabia arrives in the Turkish capital, Ankara, for an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, according to two Turkish sources cited by the country’s Anadolu news agency.

October 13

Saudi Minister of Interior Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz denied allegations regarding the disappearance and alleged murder of Khashoggi.

He said that allegations about orders to murder Khashoggi were “lies” targeting the government, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

October 15

US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that he had spoken with King Salman, who “denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened” to Jamal Khashoggi.

The New York Times reported that the Saudi royal court will soon put out a narrative that an official within the kingdom’s intelligence services – who happens to be a friend of Prince Mohammed – carried out Khashoggi’s killing.

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According to that narrative, the crown prince approved an interrogation or rendition of Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, but the intelligence official was incompetent and eagerly sought to prove himself. He then tried to cover up the botched handling of the situation.

According to two sources, CNN also reported that Saudi Arabia is preparing a report that will acknowledge that the killing of Khashoggi was the result of an “interrogation that went wrong”.

Trump suggested “rogue killers” could be responsible for Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance, an explanation offering US ally Saudi Arabia a possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm.

The Saudis continued to deny they killed the writer.

After a personal 20-minute phone call with Saudi King Salman, Trump quoted the king as saying neither he nor his son, MBS, had any information about what had happened to Khashoggi.

October 16

Trump spoke with MBS, stating that the crown prince “totally denied” any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi. 

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In a tweet, Trump said MBS told him the Saudis would rapidly expand an investigation into the matter. Answers will be coming “shortly”, the president said.

October 17

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saudi Arabia has made a “serious commitment” to hold senior leaders and officials accountable in the case of the missing journalist, if any wrongdoing is discovered.

Pompeo’s statement said the Saudis acknowledged something had happened to the missing journalist, but were not specific.

October 18

A report in The New York Times on Thursday indicated the Saudi rulers were considering blaming Major General Ahmed al-Asiri for the killing of Khashoggi, noting it would provide a plausible explanation for the killing and help to deflect blame from the Saudi crown prince.

October 19

Asiri is sacked as Saudi Arabia‘s deputy intelligence chief

He had served as an adviser to MBS, who promoted him to his intelligence position last year, and was considered to be one of MBS’ closest aides. 

October 20

After weeks of mounting international pressure, Saudi Arabia finally admits that Khashoggi was killed in their consulate in Istanbul after a fight broke out with the people he met there, but made no mention of where his body is.

“The investigations are still under way and 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested,” state media said.

October 21

A Saudi official has told the Reuters news agency that the team of 15 Saudis who were sent to confront Khashoggi on October 2 killing him in a chokehold after “overstepping” their orders. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the team tried to intimidate Khashoggi but when the 59-year-old raised his voice, the team panicked.

They then tried to restrain him and placed him in a chokehold and covered his mouth.

Asked if the team had smothered Khashoggi, the official said: “If you put someone of Jamal’s age in this position, he would probably die.”

A member of the 15-man-team then dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear as if he had left the consulate, the official added.

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