- Jamal Elshayyalinternational award-winning senior correspondent for Al Jazeera. He wrote a piece for the Middle East Eye last year titled “The rise of Mohammed bin Salman: Alarm bells should be ringing.”
New details have emerged in the disappearance and probable death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was reportedly still alive when his body was dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago. A Turkish source says it took Khashoggi seven minutes to die. The New York Times reports four of the 15 Saudi men implicated in the killing are directly linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail. We speak with Jamal Elshayyal, an international award-winning senior correspondent for Al Jazeera. He wrote a piece for the Middle East Eye last year titled “The rise of Mohammed bin Salman: Alarm bells should be ringing.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: More details have emerged about the disappearance and probable murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd. The Middle East Eye is reporting Khashoggi was killed soon after he entered the consulate. The Turkish government reportedly has audio recordings showing that he was dragged screaming from the consul general’s office, forced onto a table in a neighboring room and injected with an unknown substance. Khashoggi was reportedly then dismembered by a Saudi forensic doctor and autopsy expert, who allegedly listened to music on headphones as he used a bone saw to cut a still-breathing Khashoggi into pieces. It reportedly took Khashoggi seven minutes to die.
Meanwhile, more information has come to light about the Saudis suspected of being involved in his killing. According to Turkish officials, 15 Saudis flew into Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi entered the consulate. They then left the country just hours later. The New York Times reports four of the Saudi men are linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail. One of the men, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, has traveled frequently with the crown prince, including on his recent trip to the United States. According to The Washington Post, several other of the Saudi suspects have ties to the Saudi security services.
AMY GOODMAN: The reporting directly contradicts President Trump’s claim that, quote, “rogue elements” might be to blame for The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. On Tuesday, Trump refused to criticize Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable murder. He told the Associated Press, “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
Trump’s comment came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia Tuesday to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He said the Saudi leadership strongly denies any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: They told me they were going to conduct a thorough, complete, transparent investigation. They made a commitment to, to hold anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found accountable for that, whether they are a senior officer or official. They promised accountability.
AMY GOODMAN: Pompeo met with both the Saudi king and the crown prince. He then traveled to Turkey to meet with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Well, we go now to Turkey, to Istanbul, just outside the Saudi Consulate, where we’re joined by Jamal Elshayyal. He’s an international award-winning senior correspondent for Al Jazeera. He has been outside that consulate for days.
For people who are not familiar with this story, since you have been reporting on this now since almost the beginning—it was October 2nd that Jamal Khashoggi walked into that consulate, where you are standing now, and has not been seen again—tell us what you know at this point, right through to yesterday, when you were snapping photographs of a cleaning crew going in with bleach before the Turkish authorities went in to investigate.
JAMAL ELSHAYYAL: Well, Amy, it has been a very bizarre, but also obviously sobering, story to cover. I mean, you’re talking about a journalist who entered a consulate in order to process some paperwork to get married, essentially, to start a new chapter in his life, but never to come out again. Initially, Jamal Khashoggi, as you mentioned, entered on the Tuesday over two weeks ago for a couple of hours. His fiancée waited for him outside. He never came out. She then asked for the security guards at the door of the consulate to inform her where he was, to which they responded saying that he wasn’t actually inside and that, they claimed, he left 20 minutes after entering—obviously, a claim that was never substantiated by any sort of evidence.
The first bizarre thing to come out from the Saudi authorities was they claimed that this seven-story building behind me, that has dozens and dozens of CCTV cameras installed around it, wasn’t recording on that day, which cast a lot of doubt as to what exactly happened. A few days after Jamal Khashoggi went missing, the Turkish authorities released their CCTV footage of their cameras that are positioned outside the door of the consulate, which clearly established that Jamal had entered, putting the onus of responsibility on the Saudis to then prove that he exited. They failed to do that.
After that, we started getting some leaks and information from sources close to the investigation who were speaking on condition of anonymity, and they established to us on Saturday evening—so roughly about four days after Jamal entered—that he had indeed been killed, assassinated, murdered inside. They then released footage of a 15-man hit squad that, as you mentioned, flew in earlier on that day. And it included members of Saudi—the security personnel of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, members of the special forces of Saudi Arabia. And most importantly, it included one of the kingdom’s top forensic experts, a man who prides himself in his career as being one of the top autopsy experts in Saudi Arabia. They flew in that morning, as you mentioned, on several flights, and they all flew out, bar two of them, on private jets that are linked to or are owned by a company linked to—also directly to Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi Royal Court.
Since then, the evidence that the Turkish authorities have has been shared with the U.S. intelligence community. It seems that the Turks, diplomatically speaking, have been trying to walk a tightrope. They were looking to get some sort of support from their allies in NATO, as well as the Europeans. There was, interestingly enough, comments that were made by the U.S. intelligence community to several American outlets where they described the evidence that they were shown by the Turks as truly shocking. Now, for them to describe it—considering that they are the intelligence community that were behind things like Abu Ghraib prison, as well as Guantánamo and other hugely distasteful, let’s say, or outrageous incidents, it goes a long way to show just how gruesome the details of those recordings are, if the U.S. intelligence community is saying it was shocked by what they saw.
The problem about this case, or maybe what is making it so significant, is it’s not just a case about a journalist who entered and was murdered. There is so much more at stake—geopolitics, diplomacy, the future of Saudi Arabia and, dare I say, the future of the Middle East—because, up until now, people were looking at Saudi Arabia’s future under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He, through his very aggressive foreign policy in Yemen, in Egypt, in Libya and so forth, allied with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, have been dictating how things are moving in the Arab world.
If indeed the Turks are able to prove beyond doubt that he is the one, as they say, who ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, if indeed the international community is to step up and maybe respond as it should to a crime of this magnitude, one that essentially ignores the Vienna Convention in terms of what diplomatic missions should be used for, one that targets journalists, one that essentially demembered—dismembered, rather, somebody while he was allegedly still alive, then that could very well see at least Mohammed bin Salman’s influence not necessarily vanish, but at least clipped to an extent.
And I think, in that, considering the huge amount of investments that the Trump administration has made in Mohammed bin Salman and the links it has, that is what’s maybe making things take a lot longer than they should in terms of wrapping up this criminal investigation and establishing what sorts of retribution should be placed on the criminals behind it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Jamal, I wanted to ask you specifically about the Turkish government’s release of information. It’s been coming out sort of in drips and drabs over the period since Khashoggi entered the consulate. I wanted to ask you, first, why they took so long to actually go in and investigate, since they knew early on, apparently, that a crime had been committed. And what do you think is behind the partial releases of information over this period of time?
JAMAL ELSHAYYAL: I think Turkey’s foreign policy establishment is under a lot of stress. It has been before this. When you look at the war in Syria, when you look at the GCC crisis, when you look at the Kurdish separatists and many, many other issues—the EU Essay and all of that—I think they are not happy that this has landed on them. And they’ve suddenly found that they are currently now being dragged into a confrontation with Saudi Arabia, which although on paper is an ally, they don’t really see eye to eye on several issues.
In the beginning, it seemed that the Turks were trying to exhaust diplomatic corridors between them and—or, avenues, rather, between them and Riyadh, by trying to maybe get the Saudis to own up to what happened, and therefore it wouldn’t be seen so confrontational. When that didn’t happen, they started leaking bits here and there to try and maybe garner support from other countries, like the United States, like Britain and Germany and France, in order so that it doesn’t be—so it’s not framed as a Turkish-Saudi spat, but more so an international outrage at what Saudi Arabia have done.
More interestingly, I think, the latest two leaks that we were able to get, or the latest two bits of information we were able to get from the Attorney General’s Office the night that his team entered the consulate behind me, and then, later, the details or the gruesome details of how Jamal Khashoggi was indeed murdered—I think the timing is very important. They came right after Trump initially tried to float the idea that this was rogue elements that were behind this. And therefore I think the Turks wanted to dismiss that completely by showing, “Well, how can it be a rogue element if indeed it took place in a consulate—that is, a diplomatic mission—under the direct order or control of the government?”
And secondly, the details of this taking place was done when Trump tried to maybe float the idea that this was somehow a rogue operation, an interrogation that went wrong. The fact that you would send your head autopsy expert, the fact that Jamal Khashoggi was barely questioned, if at all questioned, and was in fact descended upon by these special forces officers and beaten and killed in the way he was would cast a lot of doubt on the idea that it was simply an attempt to interrogate or question him and that people didn’t really listen to the orders that they were given.
Obviously, the Turks themselves have a lot at stake here, not just in the sense that they don’t want to cause this rift or fallout. The Turkish economy has been suffering quite a bit recently. They’ve been trying to maybe make amends of Ankara’s relationship with Washington, and we’ve seen that in recent days with the comments coming out of the Trump administration following the release of the pastor. So, like I say, this is a case that’s got to do much more with geopolitics and the interests of power groups than it is about, unfortunately, just the case of freedom of expression and a journalist who has been assassinated.
AMY GOODMAN: You are friends with Jamal Khashoggi’s brother. Is that right? You just saw him? Can you talk about how his family is responding right now, what they’re demanding? You have President Trump, it seems, even before the Saudi regime has publicly floated that there were rogue elements who did this, though they did this—it hasn’t been explained how they did this in the Saudi Consulate or the Saudi consul general’s residence—you have Trump himself saying this was rogue elements possibly.
And you have Pompeo, who’s now gone to Turkey, where you are, but going to Saudi Arabia yesterday. Many questioned: Why wouldn’t they be calling in the Saudi ambassador in Washington? Why would he be going directly to Riyadh and taking smiling pictures with both the king as well as the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman? How is the family responding to all of this? And explain who—just who Jamal Khashoggi is and was. This is not a dissident within the Saudi regime.
JAMAL ELSHAYYAL: Let me just correct you there, Amy. I am not friends with his brother. Jamal Khashoggi—may he rest in peace—was very good friends with my brother. I had met Jamal on several occasions as a journalist in different conferences and conventions and symposiums, but I do not know Jamal Khashoggi’s brother. It is my brother who was very good friends with Jamal, and they worked together extensively, and I had met Jamal, as I mentioned, on different occasions.
I am aware that one of Jamal’s sons is currently actually in the United States. I’m also aware that one of his other sons has been under, essentially, house arrest in Saudi Arabia for many months and that the Saudi authorities put a travel ban on him in a way to try and force Jamal to come back. It does seem that there is a lot of pressure that has been put on his family. One of his sons in the United States recently created a Twitter account, which he released through it a statement where he’s demanding full transparency as to what happened to his father.
You can only imagine, obviously, in a situation like this, what kind of toll it could take. I mean, not only do you suffer the loss, but you’re suffering the everyday agony of not knowing or not having closure, not being able to bury, not being able to pay respects or to pray, from a religious perspective, and to ensure that that person is resting in peace. So, obviously, that would have a lot of stress. And it goes to show, and it speaks volumes, that the Saudi authorities would maintain a travel ban on his son. It speaks volumes that one of his other children is too scared to go back home or to travel and is in the United States.
And that would give you an idea of the contempt, maybe, that some believe the Saudi authorities have to anybody who is—as you mentioned, Jamal wasn’t an opposition figure. He wasn’t somebody who was calling for the downfall of the monarchy. He never once spoke of regime change. All of his writings were about reform. In fact, he was somebody who was very close to the Royal Court. He worked very closely with the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, previously the former ambassador to London and previously one of the head of intelligence for the kingdom.
He was just an independent mind, so he had an idea on what he saw with the aggressive rise of Mohammed bin Salman, the aggressive policies of Mohammed bin Salman, and the apparent hypocrisy of the international community to buy into this concept that Mohammed bin Salman was a reformer, when, in fact, female activists who had been calling for equality were being arrested whilst the world was applauding him for somehow allowing women to drive as being some sort of emancipation of women, as some of the U.S. media were calling it. It was those things that maybe put him on the radar.
And it seems that going after him shows that the Saudi regime and the Saudi current system under the rulership of Mohammed bin Salman is not even willing to have critical voices or even independent voices from within, let alone opposition voices. So, if you are to consider that there are some genuine opposition activists that are in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Australia and other countries, imagine what kind of fate could befall them.
And the fact that, as you mentioned, you have these pictures of Mike Pompeo smiling and laughing with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, knowing full well that the U.S. intelligence community is very much aware of the details that the Turkish intelligence agencies have—and I can—I know this based on my sources, that they did share the information with them, making it very clear the link between the crown prince and what happened. So, for the secretary of state to then go and do that, obviously, will not send confidence to the pro-democracy movements or the independent journalists or the women activists in the kingdom or in the region.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Jamal, one of the things that you—you’ve raised the issue of the very good press that Mohammed bin Salman has gotten now for months in the—especially in the American media, and you’ve raised the issue that part of that has been, conceivably, the closer relationship that has developed between Saudi Arabia under the crown prince and Israel. Could you talk about that and the information that you’ve received previously about that?
JAMAL ELSHAYYAL: Well, I mean, it’s no secret that for several years there has been an attempt to normalize a relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Mohammed bin Salman belongs to a political school of thought that is juxtaposed to that which erupted in 2011 calling for freedom and democracy in the Arab world, which was then called the Arab Spring. It was more of, I would say, a protest movement, an intifada. It never really blossomed for those who were looking for some sort of freedom.
And in that school of thought, it is one that is allied with ensuring anything must be done to maintain a status quo, a status quo which is that it is the few that rule the many, it is the wealth of the many that is in the pockets of the few, and it is in the interest of “stability” that you have to ensure that these absolute monarchies or the autocratic military regimes, like in Egypt or Syria and so forth, remain.
It would seem, from political scientists and commentators, that Israel’s existence as a superpower within that region—so, in order to maintain its upper-hand existence, it requires that those dictatorships or those absolute monarchies are also there, because what we saw, for example—and I covered Cairo—from January 26th, 2011, I was on the ground in Egypt, up until the end of that uprising, and then I covered in Libya and Yemen and Syria. And I was on the ground in all of these countries. And I can tell you, whenever there were these main protests, particularly on the Fridays, because that was the weekend, you would see hand in hand with the flag of that country—so with the Egyptian flag, you would see a Palestinian flag, as well. And you would see that in Benghazi. You would see that in Tripoli. And you would see that in Sana’a and in Aden and other places around.
And it became very apparent that the Arab people believe that the reason why Palestinian land continues to be occupied is because the dictatorships that exist are more concerned with putting their efforts in quashing dissent and ensuring that they continue to rule than they are to liberate those lands. And maybe that would explain why Mohammed bin Salman is seen to cozy up a lot more to Israel than he is to the pro-democratic movements in the Arab world. We’ve already seen, for example, over the past year and a bit, Saudi airspace being opened up to flights to Israel, something that had never been done before. We’ve seen Saudi officials meeting with Israeli officials in different countries. There were even reports that there were senior Saudi officials who flew to Israel and met with officials there.
But, I mean, you can divide it very simply as those camps that are looking for freedom and democracy, on the one hand—who may not necessarily have an issue with Israel as Israel, but they have an issue with occupation, they have an issue with inequality, they have an issue with lack of freedom—and you have another camp which wants to maintain that status quo, and therefore anybody who even rocks the boat, be it a journalist, be it an activist, be it a reformer, be it an independent voice like Jamal Khashoggi, is suddenly seen as an existential threat. And, unfortunately, without the checks and balances of international law, without any form of retribution, then they are given a green light to do what they wish, when they wish, to whomsoever they wish.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamal, just before you go, I wanted to go back to the scene where you’re at right now, standing just outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Jamal Khashoggi was just seen October 2nd—last seen. Just before Turkish investigators were allowed into Saudi Arabia’s Consulate yesterday to carry out an inspection and search for evidence in the disappearance of Khashoggi, cameras captured a team—and you tweeted out photos of this—armed with mops, trash bags, bleach, entering the building. You wrote in your tweet, “You couldn’t make this up!!! Literally minutes after #Saudi authorities said Turkish investigators could enter the consulate–a cleaning team arrived and entered the building!!!” As we wrap up, explain the significance of this, as President Trump says that the Saudi regime is conducting a thorough investigation.
JAMAL ELSHAYYAL: I think the way in which this operation happened, happened, and it is very much reflective of the policies we’ve seen of Mohammed bin Salman so far. It is, essentially—excuse me to put it in this way—but it’s a big two fingers up to the world: “We can do whatever we want, and nobody’s going to do anything about it.” We saw that in the war in Yemen. We see it every day when you’re bombing school buses and children and nothing happens. We saw that on the blockade on Qatar. We saw that with the abduction of a prime minister, the Lebanese prime minister, who was literally kidnapped. And nothing happened.
So, as far as the Saudis are concerned, in the beginning, they thought, “You know what? We’re going to get away with it.” When the Turks maybe put a bit of effort or pressure on them, and they said, “OK, we’ll allow the investigators to come,” before the investigators, in front of the world, they were like, “OK, we’re going to clean up what we can clean up.” I mean, obviously, in the end of the day, people will say, “Well, you know, you can’t really clean it up all. Why would you do that after so many days?” and so forth. But it’s about the message, that you can reach any opponent or critical voice in any country whenever you want, and nobody’s going to punish the regime for it, and even if they do catch the regime, they can do what they want as a result.
I mean, you would think that an active crime scene, even people walking into it—forget about cleaners–that, in itself, would be something that was prohibited. But the fact that that was allowed to happen in front of the cameras speaks more to the brazen nature, the shameless nature of the regime, which has been given a green light and enabled—not just by the Trump Administration, by the way, but by the entire free world, and for many decades, not just now. And therefore, that’s what’s happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jamal Elshayyal, we want to thank you so much for being with us, international award-winning senior correspondent for Al Jazeera, currently reporting outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Last year, Jamal wrote a piece for the Middle East Eye headlined “The rise of Mohammed bin Salman: Alarm bells should be ringing.”
When we come back, we continue with the latest on Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable murder with Sarah Aziza, an investigative reporter who spent the summer in Saudi Arabia. Stay with us.