The Saudi government said on Friday that dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was accidentally killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey at the hands of Saudi government officials during an altercation on October 2.
But the Saudi explanation has been met with extreme skepticism, including from Western allies and many US lawmakers. President Donald Trump, who’s waffled on his stance about Khashoggi’s death, accused the Saudi leaders of “deception” in an interview with the Washington Post over the weekend.
More information has also trickled out since Friday that calls into question the Saudi version of events. CNN aired a Turkish surveillance video that purports to show a body double wearing Khashoggi’s clothes and a fake beard leaving the Saudi consulate through the back door less than two hours after the journalist first entered the building.
And a Turkish newspaper also reported Monday that a member of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage called MBS’s office from the consulate four times on the day of Khashoggi’s murder, suggesting that perhaps MBS may have had more information than he’s claiming.
Saudi officials continue to describe Khashoggi’s death as a “rogue operation” and a “tremendous mistake,” and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and MBS confirmed Monday they made phone calls to Khashoggi’s son expressing their condolences. But the regime continues to face harsh international criticism — on Monday, the website of the Saudi investment conference dubbed “Davos in the Desert” was hacked.
Meanwhile the US response remains in diplomatic limbo: harsher words, but little action.
Here’s what to know about key developments in the case you may have missed over the weekend.
The Saudis may have tried to use a Khashoggi body double, according to surveillance footage
Turkish officials say one member of the Saudi crew implicated in Khashoggi’s death walked into the Saudi consulate — and came out dressed to look like Jamal Khashoggi.
CNN obtained surveillance footage that appears to show Mustafa al-Madani, a suspected Saudi intelligence official, exiting the consulate by the back door, wearing Khashoggi’s clothes, a fake beard, and glasses. However, Madani is still wearing the white-soled shoes he wore when he entered the consulate earlier that day. He is accompanied by a man in a hooded sweatshirt carrying a plastic bag.
“Khashoggi’s clothes were probably still warm when Madani put them on,” a senior Turkish official told CNN.
According to information Turkish officials provided to CNN, the “body double” Madani and his accomplice go to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet district, where the two men enter a bathroom. Madani emerges wearing his original outfit, and without the fake beard, according to CNN. The two men then throw out the plastic bag, which Turkish officials believe contain Khashoggi’s clothes.
The Washington Post reports that, according to “a diplomat familiar with the deliberations,” the body double was intended to corroborate the Saudi government’s initial story that Khashoggi walked out of the consulate. But that cover story fell apart, the source said, in part because of the different shoes. “It was a flawed body double, so it never became an official part of the Saudi government’s narrative,” the diplomat told the Post.
The existence of this potential body double also undermines Saudi Arabia’s story that this was merely a fight gone wrong, especially if someone brought along a fake beard.
Another report by a Turkish news outlet also complicates the Saudi narrative. Yeni Safak, a newspaper with ties to Turkey’s government, published a story Monday that said a Saudi official who travels with MBS made multiple phone calls to MBS’s office from the Saudi consulate in Turkey on the day of Khashoggi’s murder.
Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, who’s traveled with MBS to the US and other places, called the head of MBS’s royal office four times. Yeni Safak also reported that Mutreb made one call to the US from the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The information hasn’t been corroborated, but the report again undermines the Saudi’s defense that Khashoggi died in a fistfight.
Saudi’s foreign minister tells Fox News that Khashoggi’s death was a “rogue operation”
Meanwhile, the Saudi government keeps defending MBS, saying he was unaware of Khashoggi’s murder and that this a “rogue operation.”
In an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called Khashoggi’s death a “tremendous mistake.”
“The individuals who did this did it outside the scope of their authority. There was obviously a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up. That is unacceptable in any government,” al-Jubeir said. “These things unfortunately happen. We want to make sure those who are responsible are punished.”
Baier pointed out that some of the Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi’s death have close ties to MBS, and he called out the inconsistencies in the Saudi government’s story since October 2. Al-Jubeir responded by saying that a Saudi team in Turkey had discovered discrepancies in the initial report the Saudi officials filed, after which prosecutors launched the investigation.