On Tuesday October 2nd a 59-year-old Saudi journalist who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States disappeared after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The journalist, Jamal Khashoggi - a well-known critic of the House of Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in particular – was in Istanbul to obtain official papers which would enable him to remarry.
His Turkish fiancée, who was waiting for Khashoggi outside the consulate says that the journalist never left the building, a claim supported by video footage released by the Turkish government.
The Saudi authorities vehemently deny they have anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance and initially offered the Turkish police permission to examine the consulate compound and the nearby house of the Saudi consul.
The Saudis later withdrew their offer after Turkey published a list of names of 15 Saudis who arrived in two private jets from the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday morning and were in the consulate at the moment Khassoggi disappeared.
The Washington Post and The New York Times (NYT) later published articles indicating Khasshogi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate by the 15-man strong squad which left Turkey the same day the journalist disappeared.
NYT, citing unnamed Turkish intelligence officials, reported that Khasshogi was brutally assassinated on “orders from the highest levels of the royal court” in Saudi Arabia.
If true, the incident will most likely have repercussions for Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Turkey and for the Saudi-American alliance which has grown significantly stronger since the Trump Administration took office at the beginning of 2017.
Here’s what we know thus far about what happened in Istanbul before and during Tuesday Oct. 2, 2018:
Hatice Cengiz, Khasshogi’s Turkish fiancée, who wrote an open letter to President Trump in which she begged him for help “to shed light” on her partner’s disappearance, says Jamal first visited the Saudi Consulate on Sept. 28 where “ he was welcomed warmly.”
Khasshogi was told that the necessary papers would come through, but that it would take a few days.
On Tuesday morning Oct. 2, the Saudi journalist and Cengiz returned to the consulate in Istanbul to receive the documents.
Before entering the building alone at around 1 PM, Khasshogi, who was wearing an Apple watch, gave his iPhone to his fiancée.
Khasshogi’s Apple watch was synced electronically to this iPhone according to a report from Middle East Eye.
The Saudi journalist, who, according to his fiancée, realized his criticism of the regime in Riyadh “had angered certain people,” was confident “nothing bad could happen to him on Turkish soil” since it would be a violation of international law to harm, arrest or detain people at a diplomatic mission.”
He got it all wrong.
NYT reported “Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the Consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.”
The paper cited a Turkish official who claimed the murder was like “Pulp Fiction”.
A unnamed Turkish official who spoke with Middle East Eye said Turkish intelligence knows exactly what happened inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul the moment Khasshogi arrived.
“We know when Jamal was killed, in which room he was killed and where the body was taken to be dismembered. If the forensic team is allowed in, they know exactly where to go" the official claimed.
Shortly before Khasshogi arrived at the Saudi consulate, the regular staff was told to take the afternoon off because a “high-level diplomatic meeting” would take place during the afternoon.
After arriving at the consulate, the journalist was welcomed by a diplomat who let him into the consul-general’s room where he subsequently was murdered by two of the 15 man-strong squad, which reportedly included two body guards of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and a forensic expert.
Khasshogi was then dragged into another room where his body was dismembered, after which his remains were reportedly taken to the consul-general’s house by a black van where they could have been buried in the garden.
Reuters, however, cited a Saudi source which said British intelligence had information the squad first tried to drug Khasshogi but that the attempt culminated in an overdose.
Turkish intelligence sources now claim theyalready have forensic evidence of Khasshogi’s murder which was obtained by searching the sewage pipes connected to the Saudi consulate.
They, furthermore said the Saudi squad took all the hard disks from the CCTV system of the consulate before leaving the building and returning to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Consul in Istanbul has reportedly not left his home since Tuesday and has canceled all his appointments.
Turkish security forces are now waiting for official permission to enter the house and garden of the Saudi consul in order to search for the remains of the Saudi journalist.
A bipartisan group of 22 Democratic and Republican senators, meanwhile, has caused President Trump to open an American investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khasshogi based on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
This act requires the President to determine whether a foreign person or body is responsible for gross human rights violations.
The law also requires the Trump Administration to report back in 120 days with a decision on the imposition of sanctions on whoever was responsible, according to the Globe and Mail.
The Administration is reportedly pressuring the Saudi regime to come clean on Khasshogi’s disappearance while Trump said the situation was “very serious”.
The President and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have raised the issue with the Saudi government repeatedly this week “on the highest level”.
MBS (Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman), however, claims he has “nothing to hide.”
Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western Journalism.com in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authoreda book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva.