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Conflicting Reports Shroud Death of Saudi Journalist in Mystery

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The October 4th update to the Washington Post website is haunting. The headline, “Global Opinions”, is followed by nothing but a blank space, a vacant stretch of virtual canvas before the phrase “by Jamal Khashoggi”. There is no article. After another expanse of white, there is a quick clarification. “Editor’s note: Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist and author, and a columnist for Washington Post Global Opinions. Khashoggi’s words should appear in the space above, but he has not been heard from since he entered a Saudi consulate in Istanbul for a routine consular matter on Tuesday afternoon.”

A consul is a type of ambassador- he or she lives in a foreign city and promotes the interests of the government and its people. For example, an American consul might issue visas for foreign students looking to study in the United States, as well as passports for American citizens in a foreign country. A consulate is where this consul work is carried out.

 

On October 2nd, 59-year-old Jamal Khashoggi entered a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, hoping to finalize his divorce so he could marry his fiancée Hatice Cengiz. Hatice describes him as “hardly concerned” about his safety, mentioning that he had been treated with respect at his last appointment, dated September 28th. At this meeting, Khashoggi was told he would have to return on the 2nd to obtain the document he needed, which would state his official divorce. Although Khashoggi told Cengiz he would be safe on Turkish soil, he made sure she would be able to contact an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he didn’t return. She waited outside the consulate for over 10 hours. He never walked back out.

In the three weeks following Khashoggi’s disappearance, Saudi Arabian officials have continued to change their story. Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was consistently criticized in Khashoggi’s works, said that he knew nothing of Khashoggi’s whereabouts, but was certain that he had left the consulate “after a few minutes or one hour.” This remained the official statement for two weeks, until it was suddenly reported that Khashoggi had been killed in a fistfight within the consul, dying in a chokehold after resisting an attempt to return him to Saudi Arabia. However, officials did not give out any knowledge on the whereabouts of the body. In the most recent development, Foreign Minister Adel-al Jubeir admitted that Khashoggi’s death was a murder, but denied any involvement of the crown in the plot. Many openly criticize Mohammed’s innocence.

Saudi Arabia has incited further backlash after releasing a photo of Mohammed bin Salman shaking the hand of Khashoggi’s son, Salah. Many on Twitter called the photo-op insensitive. Piers Morgan and Fadi Al-Qadi, a Middle East human rights activist, both used the word “repulsive” when discussing the image. Others focused on empathizing with Salah, writing about how horrible it must be for your image to be used in the promotion of  a man who is a central suspect in the murder of your father. Salah is prohibited from traveling outside Saudi Arabia.

The murder is officially attributed to a group of Saudi agents, nine of whom arrived in Istanbul on a private plane on October 2nd. A second private plane flew in the same day. They both departed within 24 hours of landing.

The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been indefatigable while attempting to discover the truth about Khashoggi’s death, and is insistent that Khashoggi’s death was premeditated. His spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, told the press, “The issue is to shed light on an atrocious murder. The stance of our president is very clear since the beginning. Nothing will remain hidden regarding this incident.” Issues continue to arise with the ongoing investigation- although Turkish police were allowed to search most of the consulate, they were prohibited from investigating a well for some time, drawing suspicion to the Saudi Arabian government- but leads continue to be found. Samples have been taken for testing, and the Belgrad forest has been swept for the body.

Khashoggi’s body was found yesterday, reportedly buried in the garden of the Saudi consul general’s Istanbul home. He was dismembered and his face was “disfigured”, adding to evidence that he was tortured before death.

Saudi officials have arrested 18 people in relation to the killing. The US has revoked the passports of 21 Saudi nationals. Donald Trump has called Saudi Arabia’s story “the worst cover-up ever”, and has made it clear he expects the truth to emerge with clarity.

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