ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia on Friday to disclose who ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, as well as the location of his body, heightening international pressure on the kingdom to come clean on the case.
Erdogan said Turkey had more information than it had shared so far about the killing of Khashoggi, a prominent U.S.-based critic of powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that has pitched the world’s top oil exporter and pivotal Middle East strategic partner of the West into a crisis.
The kingdom, Erdogan added, also must reveal the identity of the “local cooperator” whom Saudi officials earlier said had taken charge of Khashoggi’s body from Saudi agents after his killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said on Thursday the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was premeditated, reversing a previous official statement that it happened accidentally during a fight in the consulate.
The kingdom’s shifting explanations of what happened to Khashoggi when he entered the consulate to get papers for his divorce have stirred scepticism and calls for Saudi transparency to determine who was ultimately responsible for the murder.
“Who gave this order?” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his AK Party in Ankara. “Who gave the order for 15 people to come to Turkey?” he said, referring to a 15-man Saudi security team Turkey said flew into Istanbul hours before the killing.
Saudi officials initially denied having anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance after he entered the consulate, before announcing that an internal inquiry suggested he was killed by mistake in a botched operation to return him to the kingdom.
The kingdom has detained 18 people and dismissed five senior government officials as part of the investigation. Prince Mohammed, who has cast himself as a reformer, has said the killers would be brought to justice.
Erdogan said he had spoken with Prince Mohammed. “I also told the crown prince. I said, ‘You know how to make people talk. Whatever happened between these 18 people, this dodgy business is among them. If you are determined to lift suspicion, then the key point of our cooperation is these 18 people.’”
How Western allies deal with Riyadh will hinge on the extent to which they believe responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lies directly with the prince and the Saudi authorities.