AN ASIA MEDIA INTERNATIONAL SPECIAL REPORT:

BY LMU STUDENTS– Salem AlSabah, Mohammed AlSabah, Saud K AlRashed, Saud F AlRashed, Bader Bahman, Ali AlKhater, and Mohammed AlShehri.

Managing Editors’ Note: One of the dominant news stories of this past year concerns the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. There is strong reason to suspect (but no hard evidence) that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin-Salman (MbS) orchestrated the killing and dismemberment of the journalist. And so the last few months have been riddled with conspiracy theories, speculation, and vastly differing media views on the Khashoggi case. A special seven-student team of undergraduates at Asia Media International at Loyola Marymount University (as bylined above) has put together a painstakingly detailed report on the background of Khashoggi’s relationship to Saudi Arabia, to the Crown Prince, and on the ways in which the world and its media have viewed his assassination.

Background information about Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi was a former general manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab news channel. He started to become a household name when he met and published literature on the rise of al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden in the 1980s.

For several years, Khashoggi remained close to the royal family, serving as an adviser to the government. As time passed, however, his political stance changed and he formed an increasingly critical opinion of the royal family.

Fearing for his life, he sought asylum in the United States, where he was a permanent resident (green card), and he became a prominent contributing columnist in the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section. In his columns, Khashoggi mentioned that he feared eventual arrest in a Saudi-appointed crackdown. Khashoggi had often criticized the Saudi government, and the state’s Crown Prince, popularly known as  “MBS” (Mohammad Bin-Salman), and the state’s King Salman. He also criticized his native country’s bloody and controversial intervention in Yemen, going so far as to say that Saudi Arabia can never become a democracy as long as MBS reigns.

Khashoggi’s Politics: Cause of death

In the Western world, Khashoggi was widely viewed as a rising leader who fought for democracy and  freedom of the press. In one of his writings, he outlined hopes for Arab world press freedom. At one international conference, he looked forward to the day that the Arab world press would be independent of the government and would honestly address issues.

Khashoggi also supported some of the country’s more controversial opposition stances. For instance, he voiced support for reforms allowing women to drive – as well as for many other right, in individual-rights-scarce Saudi Arabia. He publicly criticized the arrest of a renowned woman activist, Eman al Nafjan, and several other prominent women activists fighting for women’s rights.

The Saudi journalist was determined to help bring radical changes to Saudi society, despite criticism and opposition from the kingdom. This is why he became an enemy of the Saudi state. In addition,  Khashoggi openly disapproved of MBS, saying that the prince was inexperienced and mercurial, to the point where his rule could undermine the security of other Gulf countries.

Another speculation, as posited by informed political analysts, is that Khashoggi was working on helping form a new political party referred to as Democracy for Arab World – in theory something that could become a threat to the leadership of the Crown Prince.

The Journey Around the Saudi Consulate

Khashoggi was planning to formalize his marriage, after officially divorcing his first wife. He went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to finalize his marriage license to Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish doctoral student. Khashoggi had acquired a building in Istanbul and was planning to settle there with her once they were officially married – presumably the next day. He planned to divide his time between Turkey and the United States of America.

This scenario was not to be.

After the disappearance of Khashoggi, the Saudi government refrained from providing detailed information. For his part, the Crown Prince did vow to search for the journalist, saying in an interview that Khashoggi was a citizen of Saudi Arabia and that the country was keen on locating his whereabouts.

Then the official story underwent its first change. The government claimed that Khashoggi exited the consulate minutes after he had entered. This story stood in sharp contrast to videotapes provided by the Turkish government, showing Khashoggi entering the building, but not leaving it. In fact, the world later learned that a body double was in play, confusing analysts regarding the exact time of the real Khashoggi’s entry into the consulate.

Universal concern mounted. The story then proceeded to change in several ways, as Saudi Arabia kept revising its official response to the question of “what happened to Khashoggi?” One Riyadh (Saudi’s capital) version was that it was an accidental murder, the story later adopting the narrative that some (presumably unauthorized) high-level officials in the country were the orchestraters of the incident.

Timeline of Events and Khashoggi’s Murder

September 28th

Here is what is known for a fact: Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey to finalize his wedding plans with his fiancee, Turkish doctoral student Hatice Cengiz. He was told to come back the next week to pick up the approval documents.  Later, Turkish authorities analyzed CCTV footage showing what looked like Khashoggi entering the consulate.

October 2nd

Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate a second time for the official marriage documents. Cengiz waited for her fiance outside the consulate a little after 1pm, Istanbul time. She had two of his mobile phones. Khashoggi had told her that she should summon official assistance if he failed to come out. After waiting two hours, when Khashoggi had still not returned, Cengiz called the police.

Piecing together what little evidence was then available– and amid rapidly developing suspicions — government authorities in Istanbul advised one Turkish staffer at the Saudi consulate not to report to work after Khashoggi went “missing.” Earlier that day, the stunning news was reported by Sabah, a well-known Turkish News outlet, that a private plane had been sighted with nine Saudi officials on board, touching down at Istanbul after leaving Riyadh. This raised a lot of concerns and fired up further speculation. The world became suspicious of this incident amid reports that Khashoggi was “missing.” This led to the deplaned Saudi “officials” being targeted as persons of extreme interest.

At four in the evening–to add to the developing mystery– six cars were observed leaving the Saudi consulate and carrying some of those same Saudi ‘persons of interest.’ They were followed by Turkish agents assigned to investigate the matter. Other vehicles, probably two, were observed exiting the consulate area for the Saudi consular residence, where the vehicles were observed parked for four hours.

October 3rd

Worries became grave fears as Khashoggi was still missing on his wedding day. After an interview with Cengiz, his fiancée, Reuters began speculating that Khashoggi’s “disappearance” was, in fact, a murder. To add to the brewing confusion, Saudi consulate officials declined to comment on the story. US officials, acting with Turkish counterparts, then confirmed his disappearance and said they were launching their own investigation.

Unfortunately, all the investigative agencies took quite a long time to provide answers. The world media was much quicker off the mark – some critics said too quick, in fact. Bloomberg news service reported the Saudi Crown Prince as asserting he was on top of the matter and would provide answers as well as  support to all investigative agencies. This information, it was believed, would provide Jamal Khashoggi’s whereabouts, assuming the noted journalist was still alive. The prince added that despite the fact that Saudi Arabia and its consulate in Istanbul were sovereign territory, investigators would not be denied access.

According to knowledgeable political commentators, Riyadh’s apparent cooperation was an attempt to warn the Saudi public to keep its distance, and to distance the government and royal family from any allegations of complicity or direct involvement.

October 4th

Turkish sources indicated that the state’s foreign minister, feeling the worldwide pressure, requested that the Saudi Arabia ambassador provide more information; but he refused to comment. But it was on this day that the Turkish government in Istanbul provided its first official statement through its official news agency regarding the disappearance of Khashoggi.

According to the Turkish government, which promised to follow up on mounting worldwide media speculation about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist walked out of the consulate right after he was handed the wedding documents by Saudi consulate officials, but the timing of this assertion could not be confirmed by the existing CCTV footage. In fact, It was later reported by foreign news outlets that Khashoggi had left the consulate through a back way. However, this exit was said not to have been captured by CCTV cameras.  So the situation was still very confused.

October 7th

Saudi officials strongly denied speculative allegations made by Reuters — that the missing Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate — but urged investigative agencies to continue to do their work, even as they insisted these allegations were baseless.  

October 8

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan received a WhatsApp message from the Saudi ambassador to the U.S, Prince Khalid Bin Salma, refuting any claims regarding a Saudi government role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

On the same day, an unidentified Turkish official informed the Washington Post and Reuters that Jamal Khashoggi was actually murdered inside the consulate, but offered no firm evidence to support this claim. This then sparked debate and raised more questions regarding the Saudi kingdom’s claim to have had no involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and no knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts.

October 9th

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested that an official from the consulate provide CCTV with footage showing Khashoggi leaving the consulate. Again, at the same time, some individuals of Saudi Arabian descent were noted to arrive in the country. Turkey’s chief investigator was tasked to investigate these people who arrived.

In addition, Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée,  requested that the Saudi consulate release footage showing Khashoggi going out of the building. She directly addressed this to MBS.

Later reports indicated that Turkish detectives were investigating the black Mercedes Benz that they believed to have been used by unidentified  people to abduct Jamal Khashoggi. Several other vehicles were investigated because they appeared several times in the area when Jamal was now thought  to be still inside the consulate.

October 10th

The CCTV video provided by the consulate did not show Khashoggi leaving the premises by a back way. Turkish authorities claimed that the footage might have been seized by Saudi officials on the day Khashoggi went missing.

October 11th

U.S President Donald Trump noted that Saudi Arabia was in many respects a vital regional and economic ally. Trump told news outlets that he had talked with Saudi officials regarding the matter and that they were keen to find out the truth.

October 12th

Saudi officials released two official statements, refuting claims that Khashoggi had been murdered inside the Saudi consulate. In the first statement, the Minister of the Interior, Abdulaziz bin Saud Al Saud, disputed unsubstantiated social media claims about the Saudi government’s part in Khashoggi’s murder and disappearance.

A second statement, from an unknown official, mentioned that Saudi Arabia and Turkey would work together to further investigate  the mysterious disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.

October 15th

Comoros, an Arab archipelago state, Sudan, and Kuwait, sided with Saudi Arabia’s claims of innocence. In the meantime, popular regional news outlet, Al Jazeera released a video of a cleaning team with supplies leaving the embassy.

October 16th

CNN reported that Turkish officials confirmed that Khashoggi’s body had been mutilated into pieces following his murder at the Saudi consulate.

In a conversation with the Associated Press (AP), President Trump raised the idea of “rogue murderers” being responsible for abducting Khashoggi.

October 17th

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Istanbul, where he informed journalists that President Trump had conferred with the Crown Prince himself, that more information would be provided as it became available, and that the kingdom had agreed to work together on an impartial investigation.

Turkish foreign minister, Melvut Cavusoglu, later stated that they would not investigate further unless Saudi officials cooperated with them in addressing the issue.

October 19th

The Saudi government admitted that Khashoggi died, but only after he became involved in a “fight” inside the consulate. The statement raised global derision – inspiring even more investigations into the matter.

November 5th

Saudi Arabia informed the United Nations that it would prosecute any suspects found responsible for killing Khashoggi. This statement came after the US condemned Khashoggi’s murder in front of a forum at the United Nation Human Rights Council.

November 11

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the world that Turkey was going to allow Saudi Arabia, the United States, Germany, France, and Britain to listen to tape recordings purported to have been taken place both before and during Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi Consulate. The recordings indicated the murder was premeditated, according to Turkish officials. Later, not one national officials after reviewing the video publicly disagreed with the Turkish government’s judgment. The audio was described by several sources later as horrific.

International Countries’ Responses to Khashoggi’s Death

Qatar

According to Al Jazeera, Qatari officials hoped the murder of Khashoggi would sensitize other nations around the world to re-evaluate their cozy relations with the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For nearly three weeks, a Qatari national broadcaster pushed round-the-clock news coverage of Khashoggi’s disappearance. In fact, an English-language website with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political movement close to Qatar and reviled by Saudi Arabia, aimed to shame Western executives away from attending an investment conference in Riyadh. In Qatar’s view, the dark side of the Saudi rival had been revealed for the world to see.  

Saudi Arabia

Figure 1Saudi’s Evolving View on the Death of Jamal Khashoggi. SOURCE: www.msn.com

According to Al-Arabiya, the Saudi national news channel, questions over the disappearance of Khashoggi have been muddled by different broadcasters’ misinterpretations of the tragic event, which was largely driven by partisan media. They claim that three figures put forth conflicting statements: Cengiz ( Khashoggi’s fiancée,)  Turan Kışlakçı- (an eyewitness) and Jamal Elshayyal (an Al Jazeera reporter). According to the news channel, these three have exaggerated and embellished the story with fake news to spark panic and place blame on Saudi authorities.

Some Middle Eastern countries supported Saudi Arabia and applauded the many measures it took to investigate the case, adding that the Saudis’ responses were credible. Initially, however, as the reports provided by the Saudi intelligence team were widely viewed as inadequate, the king dismissed the team and appointed a new ministerial committee to oversee the kingdom’s intelligence service. Saudi media widely reported Egypt’s instant applause over what Cairo termed the kingdom’s decisive moves to investigate. According to Egypt’s foreign minister, the kingdom showed respect for the law. The government of the United Arabs Emirates said the same.

United States of America

According to CNN, President Donald Trump claimed, on October 28, that the responsibility for looking into Khashoggi’s murder rested with the American Congress. Secretary of State Pompeo later mentioned that the United States is holding accountable the people alleged to be the prime murderers, without disclosing their identities and the countries they come from.

Mr Trump said that the murder of Khashoggi was “horrible,” but that announcing his disappearance was a good step and that Saudi Arabia and the United States are close allies. At the same time, he acknowledged that what had occurred could not be accepted internationally. He added that he would not cancel the multi-billion dollar defense projects that had been signed.

As indicated by CNN and other news outlets, many politicians in the United States condemned Trump and expressed their disbelief regarding the initial story that Khashoggi died after fiercely fighting with some individuals inside the Saudi consulate. One who expressed utter disbelief was US Senator Lindsey Graham, otherwise known as a staunch ally of Trump.

In addition, the influential House of Representatives Democrat Adam Schiff criticized the kingdom’s trustworthiness, saying that if Khashoggi was fighting with individuals who had been ordered to murder him, then he would have been fighting for his life. He added that the Saudi kingdom must be held responsible for Khashoggi’s death. This stance was supported by many Congressional politicians, who demanded to know where Khashoggi’s body was taken after he was killed. The United States is currently preventing any visa issuances to any prime suspects in the murder case, and is reviewing the possibility of sanctioning the suspects.

Turkey

According to the deputy leader of the country’s ruling party, Turkey will not take part in any cover-up of the murder of this famous journalist inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The government chimed in, adding that it would release all of its evidence to the world. Turkish leaders are expected to provide all relevant evidence supporting the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials while at the country’s embassy. Turkish officials pointedly noted that while Saudi authorities have detained 18 of its nationals in connection with the case, it let six senior officials go, including the senior assistant to the Crown Prince.

Suspects linked to Khashoggi’s murder case

According to Sky News, Turkey has demanded the extradition of the 18 Saudi nationals accused of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi with “monstrous intent.” This demand comes after Mr. Khashoggi’s fiancée, who was outside the consulate when her partner was killed inside, gave her first interview.

According to Reuters, one other person has been linked to the death of Jamal Khashoggi: An individual associated with the Crown Prince’s social media account. This same person, according to some credible sources, is said to have organized the killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate, having done so through Skype communications. According to a close source to the Saudi royal court, the Crown Prince allegedly instructed his social media point man to make a Skype call, so that as soon as  Khashoggi entered the embassy, he would be captured by the Saudi intelligence officers. But this scenario, at this writing, is still speculative and lacks firm evidence.

IS MBS Guilty?
*Managing Editors’ Note: The following – independent of Asia Media International – represents the considered judgment of  the special seven-student team of undergraduates at Asia Media International at Loyola Marymount University that have compiled this report.  

Since Khashoggi’s death, reports have circulated regarding Saudi Crown Prince MBS’ involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. However, no substantial evidence has surfaced as of this writing (16 December 2018) directly indicating that MBS is guilty.

The American government seems divided on the MBS issue. For example, US Senator Bob Corker flatly said there is no chance that Saudi Crown Prince MBS would be involved in the murder. And the CIA has not been able to substantiate publicly its belief that MBS was directly involved, though it did report a high degree of probability.  But, for his part, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that he has no question in his mind that MBS organized the killing.

On a number of occasions, President Trump has supported MBS and said that he was not implicated by any substantial evidence. In addition, he and his secretary of state have openly stated that the national economic and strategic interest of maintaining close relations with Riyadh may well override all other concerns and pursuits as far as the Trump administration is concerned.

At present, the world community is still divided, but not as to whether Khashoggi was murdered. The sole outstanding question is: Was this crime ordered up by the Crown Prince? Certainly, Saudi elites involved in this murder, as well as others who were inside the consulate on that tragic and shocking day, should be held accountable, whoever that might mean and whoever, in truth, they may be.

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