All roads lead to Saudi Arabia as Turkey begins trial of Kashoggi murderers

Turkey begins trial in absentia of the accused in the harrowing murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi. This is a tough time for Saudi Arabia in general and Ankara-Riyadh relations in particular, considering that the main accused happen to be close aides of the Saudi Crown Prince. A verdict against them could tarnish Saudi Arabia's carefully reconstructed global image.

Turkey tries Kashoggi murderers

Twenty Saudi suspects including two former aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman went on trial Friday in absentia in Turkey, accused of killing and dismembering journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Turkey tries Kashoggi murderers in a development that will have far reaching consequences for the relations between the two economic powerhouses of the Muslim world.

Khashoggi, 59, was an insider-turned-critic who wrote for The Washington Post before he was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 where he had gone to obtain documents necessary for his wedding to Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.

Turkey tries Kashoggi murderers in absentia

Turkish prosecutors claim Saudi deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s media czar Saud al-Qahtani led the operation and gave orders to a Saudi hit team.

They were formally charged in March with “instigating the deliberate and monstrous killing, causing torment”.

Eighteen other suspects — including intelligence operative Maher Mutreb who frequently travelled with the crown prince on foreign tours, forensic expert Salah al-Tubaigy and Fahad al-Balawi, a member of the Saudi royal guard — were charged with “deliberately and monstrously killing, causing torment”.

Read more: Khashoggi fiancee hopes UK doesn’t let MbS put himself above British law

The prosecutor has already issued arrest warrants for the suspects who are not in Turkey.

Cengiz, who is a complainant in the case, was attending the trial alongside the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard.

Yasin Aktay, a close friend of Khashoggi and advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, was also in the courtroom.

Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government but has never directly blamed Prince Mohammed.

Turkey tries Kashoggi murderers: no rest until justice is delivered

Cengiz said she hoped the trial “brings to light the whereabouts of Jamal’s body, the evidence against the killers and the evidence of those behind the gruesome murder.”

“I will continue to pursue all legal avenues to hold Jamal’s killers accountable and I will not rest until we get justice for Jamal,” she told AFP before the trial.

During the Istanbul prosecutor’s investigation, the suspects’ phone records, their presence at the consulate confirmed by CCTV images, as well as Khashoggi’s laptop, two phones and an iPad were analysed.

Read more: Khashoggi family to pardon his killers

Callamard called for an independent international probe into the murder last year after she said Khashoggi was the victim of a “premeditated extrajudicial execution”.

A closed-door trial of 11 suspects in Saudi Arabia ended in December with five unnamed people sentenced to death.

The crown prince’s former aides, Assiri and Qahtani, were exonerated.

The sons of Khashoggi said they forgave his killers in May this year, a moved expected to allow the government to grant clemency for the five convicts on death row.

Turkish-Saudi relations take a hit

Relations between Ankara and Riyadh are rocky, having worsened significantly after Khashoggi’s murder.

The two countries are also on opposing sides in the Libyan war, where Ankara has recently helped turn the tide in favour of the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

Almost a month after Khashoggi’s death, Erdogan directly accused the Saudi government of murdering the journalist. Erdogan said, “We know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.” He also said that “the puppet masters behind Khashoggi’s killing” would be exposed.

Read more: Jamal Khashoggi murder: Turkey charges 20 Saudis

Yasin Aktay, a top Turkish official and adviser to Erdogan believes Khashoggi’s body was dissolved in acid after being dismembered. He said, “The reason they dismembered Khashoggi’s body was to dissolve his remains more easily. Now we see that they did not only dismember his body but also vaporised it.”

The movie Kingdoms of Fire, aired by MBC in 2019, was partially financed by Saudi Arabia, further exacerbated by the portrayal of the Ottoman Turks as violent, ruthless and uncivilized people. This had drawn criticism in Turkey.

Who was Jamal Kashoggi?

Khashoggi, a journalist by profession, was a critic of the Saudi regime and reserved his harshest judgement for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. during his career in Saudi Arabia, he was the editor of Al Watan Newspaper, which he slowly but surely turned into a platform for Saudi progressives. After fleeing from the Kingdom in 2017, he took up a job with The Washington Post. He was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

Riyadh took many about-turns during the ensuing investigations. The Saudis offered various, conflicting narratives to explain his disappearance, ranging from him leaving the consulate alive to dying from strangulation within the consulate, before ultimately acknowledging he was murdered in the diplomatic building while seeking to shift blame for his death on a botched rendition operation being carried out by rogue agents.

Khashoggi’s body has never been found.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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