A hideous story unspooled before the international media in October 2018, when Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — who had been living in Washington, D.C. after fleeing his home country a year before due to persistent death threats in response to his criticism of its government — abruptly vanished.
On Monday, sources told CNN that the report will acknowledge that Khashoggi died in a botched interrogation, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey. A Turkish official told CNN on Tuesday that Khashoggi’s body was cut into pieces after he was killed two weeks ago at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The claim, which was first made to the New York Times earlier in the investigation into Khashoggi’s fate, comes after Turkish officials searched the consulate for nine hours on Monday night.
Khashoggi had entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 to finish up what should have been a relatively quick errand: he was getting routine paperwork finalized so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée. The errand was so quick, in fact, that his fiancée stayed outside to wait for him. He never came out. He has been missing ever since.
Since that day, reports have been accumulating slowly but surely, all of which so far seem to indicate a horrific state-sponsored murder.
Reports from Turkish sources that the Saudis allegedly murdered and dismembered the dissident writer, a Washington Post contributor, have fanned a growing backlash against Riyadh in Western capitals. But the kingdom has circled the wagons and angrily hit back at the accusations — and it seems to have found a willing ally in President Trump.
On Monday morning, Trump held a 20-minute phone call with the Saudi king and then parroted Riyadh’s denials to reporters. “I don’t want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers,” Trump said. “Who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.”
Initial calls for an investigation were met with more denials, then attempts to muddy the narrative from Saudi Arabian officials and their assorted supporters. Those denials were then boosted by an eager bevy of conspiracy theorists and true believers. One of the latter, a conspiracy theorist named Thomas Wictor (who is perhaps best known for being banned by Twitter for openly speculating, without any proof whatsoever, that actress Alyssa Milano was plotting to assassinate controversial Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh) produced a strange, evidence-free monologue from a filthy room — complete with a colander on his head, presumably as a trolling attempt — supporting the line that Khashoggi had left the consulate twenty minutes later after he entered it in a video that was immediately picked up by Twitter accounts supporting Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman:
يوتيوبر أمريكي، قرر يتجاهل الإعلام الموجه، ويبحث في قصة اختفاء #جمال_خاشقجي بنفسه، واكتشف انها مؤامرة، كلام مهم ضروري تسمعوه وتنشروه خصوصًا في الهاشتاقات الأجنبية. #ترجمة_لبيب #كشف_المسعور
#khashoggi #JamalKhashoogi pic.twitter.com/t1fX2cN104
— لبيب Labeeb (@LabeebHub) October 15, 2018
Wictor, who has no known expertise in geopolitics, claimed that he just “knew it was bullshit” from the media, and claims that a global conspiracy forced Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera to change its reporting to indicate Saudi Arabia was behind his murder, and “the Turks are lying their asses off.” Despite the utter lack of any supporting evidence (not to mention the strainer) the video was picked up and disseminated in Saudi social media circles with an Arabic translation.
The biggest solid claim Wictor makes in his video is that Khashoggi left after twenty minutes. This opinion (originally made by the Saudi government) has been already disputed by Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, who unlike Wictor, was there, but this seems to have made no difference at all to his narrative. As Cengiz wrote in the New York Times on October 13:
He was cheerful the morning we were going to the Saudi consulate to get a document certifying his divorce. I decided not to go to my university that day, and we traveled there together. He had no foreboding of what was to come. The consular official, who had informed him that the paperwork had come through, had told him to be at the Saudi consulate at 1 p.m.
On our way there, we made plans for the rest of the day. We were going to browse appliances for our new home and meet with our friends and family members over dinner. When we arrived at the consulate, he went right in. He told me to alert the Turkish authorities if I did not hear from him soon. Had I known it would be the last time I would see Jamal, I would have rather entered the Saudi consulate myself. The rest is history: He never walked out of that building. And with him, I also got lost there.
The Trump administration also appeared to have its doubts about Turkey’s accounting of what exactly happened to Khashoggi:
In separate remarks Wednesday, both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued their effort to create time for leaders in Riyadh to provide an explanation for Khashoggi’s disappearance after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
“I’m not giving cover at all,” Trump said. “I just want to find out what’s happening.”
“With that being said, Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East,” he added, pointing to a US-Saudi arms deal that he valued at $110 billion, even though just $14.5 billion of that figure has actually begun to materialize.
What exactly happened to Jamal Khashoggi is not yet known. However, when the real story does emerge, it will emerge out of the efforts of dedicated investigators and international journalists, not a random conspiracy theorist sitting thousands of miles away from Istanbul spouting opinions while sporting a strainer on his head.
On October 18th, BBC reported that Arabic-language bots picked up the story to attempt to push different fewpoints into the mainstream, expressing support for Mohammad bin Salman and condemnation for Al Jazeera, which they claim is a “channel of deception” for publishing stories on Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkey’s English-language Hürriyet Daily News also reports that according to Yeni Şafak (a conservative pro-Turkish government daily) a suspect in Khashoggi’s possible murder was apparently killed in a car crash, but with few details and no citations, further confusing the story:
Mashal Saad al-Bostani, a 31-year-old lieutenant of the Saudi Royal Air Forces, was among the 15 suspects who arrived and left Turkey on Oct. 2 after going to Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate when Khashoggi visited there, according to daily Yeni Şafak.
The newspaper said sources did not release any details about the traffic accident in Riyadh and Bostani’s role in the “murder” was not yet clear.