International outrage is mounting against the Saudi regime that it deployed a kill- team to assassinate Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the monarchy.
Top Saudi leaders deployed a 15-man hit squad to lie in wait for dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, The New York Times said in an explosive story.
Khashoggi entered the consulate on October 2 to handle a routine paperwork issue but he never came out, according to family and friends, as well as Turkish authorities.
Among the assassination team was a forensic expert who brought a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body after killing him, the Times reported, citing an unidentified “senior official” as saying.
Accusations the Saudi leadership directly ordered the alleged assassination of Khashoggi will put further pressure on the United States and other allies to demand a transparent investigation, with possible serious repercussions to bilateral relations if it does not come to fruition.
Saudi officials have denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged murder, saying he left the consulate on October 2. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that Riyadh prove his departure from the building.
Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper with close ties to the government, named and published photos on Tuesday of the alleged 15-member Saudi assassination team accused of travelling to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi disappeared. The suspects are wanted by Turkish authorities for questioning.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip expressed disbelief at Saudi claims that Khashoggi disappeared without being picked up by security cameras after leaving the consulate.
“How is it possible for a consulate, an embassy not to have security camera systems? Is it possible for the Saudi Arabian consulate where the incident occurred not to have camera systems?” he said.
“If a bird flew, if a mosquito appeared, these systems would catch them and [I believe] they would have the most advanced of systems,” he said.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Washington Post – for whom Khashoggi wrote columns after fleeing Saudi Arabia over fears of retribution for his critical commentary – reported that US intelligence had intercepted communications of Saudi officials planning to abduct the prominent journalist.
“Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there,” the Post quoted a person familiar with the information as saying.
It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him – or if the US warned Khashoggi he was a target, the source told the newspaper.
The US resident has written articles over the past year during his self-imposed exile that were critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In the latest Washington Post article that Khasoggi wrote: In recent months, Saudi Arabia has instituted several new and extreme policies, from full-throated opposition of Islamists to encouraging citizens to name others to a government blacklist. Those arrested were on that list.
“It’s no secret that the crown prince despises the Muslim Brotherhood, yet it is actually a strange contradiction to identify a person as a Muslim Brotherhood activist. I always found it ironic when a Saudi official bashes Islamists, given that Saudi Arabia is the mother of all political Islam — and even describes itself as an Islamic state in its “Higher Law.” (We avoid the term “constitution” because of its secular interpretation and often say that the Koran is our constitution.)
“Regardless of who is being targeted, this is not what Saudi Arabia needs right now. We are going through a major economic transformation that is supported by the people, a transformation that will free us from total dependence on oil and restore a culture of work and production.
“This is a very painful process. Mohammed bin Salman is best served by encouraging constructive, diverse opinions from public figures such as Essam and other economists, clerics, intellectuals and business people who have instead been swept up in these arrests.
“My friends and I living abroad feel helpless. We want our country to thrive and to see the 2030 vision realized. We are not opposed to our government and care deeply about Saudi Arabia. It is the only home we know or want. Yet we are the enemy. Under pressure from my government, the publisher of one of the most widely read Arabic dailies, Al-Hayat, canceled my column. The government banned me from Twitter when I cautioned against an overly enthusiastic embrace of then-President-elect Donald Trump. So I spent six months silent, reflecting on the state of my country and the stark choices before me.
It was painful for me several years ago when several friends were arrested. I said nothing. I didn’t want to lose my job or my freedom. I worried about my family.
I have made a different choice now. I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better. – Al Jazeera and Washington Post.