According to the shifting Saudi narrative, first Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked out of the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul alive. Then, after conducting a preliminary investigation, Saudi prosecutors changed their story and admitted that Khashoggi was dead, blaming his death on an out-of-control “fist fight.”
In the latest version, Khashoggi was accidentally killed in a chokehold while being interrogated by Saudi intelligence officials. His remains were then smuggled out of the consulate in a rug, a senior Saudi official told Reuters.
The latest account doesn’t point to an escalating “brawl,” as reported by Saudi prosecutors. Rather, Khashoggi’s interrogators allegedly panicked after their subject raised his voice and accidentally killed him in an attempt to stifle him.
The government official, who requested to remain anonymous, even sought to blame Khashoggi for his own death, arguing that the journalist’s “shouting” escalated the violence. The anonymous source said Khashoggi’s poor physical conditioning contributed to his demise.
As the Saudi official tells it, Khashoggi was taken into a room at the Istanbul consulate where 15 Saudi intelligence officials sent from Riyadh were waiting to deal with the dissident reporter. When they told him that he must return to Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi refused and asked: “What are you going to do with me? Do you intend to kidnap me?”
When one of the columnist’s interrogators, identified as Maher Mutreb, sought to intimidate Khashoggi, saying, “Yes, we will drug you and kidnap you,” the captive journalist began screaming for help. Reuters’ source explained that Mutreb was not authorized to threaten Khashoggi with kidnapping.
“They tried to prevent him from shouting but he died,” the official explained, insisting that the 59-year-old journalist was not in the best shape. “The intention was not to kill him. … If you put someone of Jamal’s age in this position, he would probably die.”
To deal with the remains, the squad rolled Khashoggi’s remains up into a rug and handed him off to “a local cooperator” for disposal — countering Turkish suspicions that his body was dismembered with a bone saw. Turkish authorities have searched nearby woods for his remains, but have so far failed to turn up any leads.
This account conflicts with the Saudi’s initial response to Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 disappearance. After speaking with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the phone last week, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that his Persian Gulf ally “totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate.”
However, a series of leaks from Turkish media — some of them accurate, other reports ranging from dangerous speculation to intentional misinformation — directly contradicted the Saudi narrative and accused the kingdom of carrying out a murder-conspiracy originating from the highest echelons of the royal family.
To explain the conflicting stories, the unnamed Saudi official blamed the inconsistencies on “false information reported internally at the time” from the 15-man team that met with the journalist. “Once it became clear these initial mission reports were false, (the government) launched an internal investigation and refrained from further public comment,” the official said, stressing that the probe into the death was ongoing.
Khashoggi’s death has sparked outrage from international human rights advocates and government watchdogs. Many American journalists characterized the homicide as a targeted assassination in a war against a free press.
Just like the reports coming out of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, however, analysis from American media sources should be received with skepticism. Khashoggi was a royal family advisor, once responsible for the very injustices he came to deplore in his columns for The Washington Post. Only after Khashoggi was purged along with other factions in an anti-corruption crackdown did he turn against the crown prince.
In addition, Khashoggi was a committed Islamist with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide, puritanical Salafist movement that seeks to replace pluralistic, secular Democracies with the banner of Islam.
Of course, Khashoggi’s jihadist associations hardly merit his censorship, and certainly do not justify his murder. The Saudi journalist’s death should serve as a stark reminder that even unpopular opinions should be tolerated in the name of justice for all.