It’s been over a month since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in his country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The case remains unresolved, in the face of the disappearance of his remains and the absence of an articulate scenario as to what happened to him immediately before his death and how he was killed.
The limelight is fading gradually on the case of Khashoggi, primarily because US sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors have been put into effect.
Turkey’s statements on the intricate case, nevertheless, didn’t cease, ranging between an article Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote in The Washington Post, on whose pages Khashoggi was a regular columnist, and leaked statements saying the Saudi writer’s body was dissolved in acid after being cut up and that Saudi forensic experts wiped the scene of the crime.
The Turkish daily Sabah newspaper reported an unnamed source saying that Riyadh sent a cleanup team comprising a chemist, Ahmed Abdel-Aziz Al-Ganoubi, and a toxicologist, Khaled Yehia Al-Zahrani, to Istanbul to “get rid of his body and hide the evidence”.
The newspaper added it had obtained information that the two experts visited the Saudi consulate and the consul-general’s residence in Istanbul from 12 to 17 October and that they had stayed at a luxurious hotel in Beşiktaş nearby the consulate before leaving Turkey on 20 October.
Information regarding wiping evidence from the murder scene conflicts with earlier reports that Turkish investigators had gathered “many pieces of evidence” when they visited the consulate and the consul-general’s residence.
Turkey’s conundrum lies not in “hiding the evidence” as much as the non-existence of a body that may facilitate reconstructing what happened.
Despite the fact that the whereabouts of the body is the first question Turkish officials pose to their Saudi counterparts, the Washington Post reported a Turkish official saying Ankara believes that whoever killed Khashoggi dissolved his body in acid.
“Turkish authorities are pursuing a theory that Khashoggi’s dismembered body was destroyed in acid on the grounds of the Saudi consulate or at the nearby residence of the Saudi consul-general. Biological evidence discovered in the consulate garden supports the theory that Khashoggi’s body was disposed of close to where he was killed and dismembered,” the Washington Post reported the unnamed Turkish official as saying.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told the media that investigations should seriously consider the possibility that the body was dissolved in acid. If true, it would be a game changer, he added.
It appears Turkey’s despair at failing to find Khashoggi’s body — especially after the Saudi public prosecutor arrived in Istanbul and didn’t present any information regarding the whereabouts of the body — is driving Turkish officials to mull over the possibility of a much more gruesome cover up.
“We just need to make sure that he rests in peace,” Salah Khashoggi, 35, told CNN alongside his brother, Abdullah Khashoggi, 33. “All we want right now is to bury him in Al-Baqi (cemetery) in Medina (Saudi Arabia) with the rest of his family,” Salah said.
“I talked about that with the Saudi authorities and I just hope that it happens soon,” he added.
Without their father’s body, Salah and Abdallah say they can’t grieve or find closure.
“It’s difficult, it’s not easy. Especially when the story gets this big. It’s not easy, it’s confusing. Even the way we grieve, it’s a bit confusing,” Abdullah told CNN.
“At the same time, we’re looking at the media and the misinformation. There’s a lot of ups and downs. We’re trying to be emotional and at the same time we’re trying to get the story — bits and pieces of the story to complete the whole picture. It’s confusing and difficult. It’s not a normal situation and not a normal death,” he added.
The Turkish regime believes that, since the murder was “premeditated”, “the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government”, as Erdogan wrote in his article published in the Washington Post on Friday.
And lest he would be misunderstood, he asserted that King Salman did not give the “order” to kill Khashoggi.
Many observers believe Erdogan’s insistence that King Salman was not responsible for Khashoggi’s death tells of Turkey’s strong inclination to maintain ties with Riyadh.
This comes at a time Turkey’s economy is spiralling down and the Syrian war is about to end. Turkey is vying for a foothold in Syria to replace that in Iran.
“The highest levels of the Saudi government” that Erdogan referred to works as a Turkish pressure card against Saudi Arabia to achieve gains in the Syrian file, or to drive Riyadh to direct investment towards Ankara.
After Khashoggi’s murder Saudi Arabia apprehended 18 suspects believed to be involved in the crime. Five high-level officials were arrested and released, including Royal Diwan Advisor Soud Al-Qahtani and Assistant Director of General Intelligence Ahmed Al-Asiri.
Turkish statements insinuated the murderers were in touch with Al-Asiri.
Riyadh vowed to bring to justice those responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. Bandar Al-Aiban, president of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia and who headed the government delegation at a regular review of its record, said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council that King Salman had instructed the public prosecutor to “investigate the case according to applicable laws and to bring the perpetrators to justice”.
With the application of US sanctions on Iran, which produces 3.5 million oil barrels per day, it looks like the world, including Europe, Asia and the US, is in need of Saudi Arabia, that produces 11 million oil barrels per day.
The United Arab Emirates meanwhile announced it was going to increase its oil production. Iraq, too, is in the race with 4.5 million oil barrels per day.
These realities on the ground may drive many countries to step back on the murder of Khashoggi, allowing investigations to take their natural course, whatever the result may be.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The oil game in Khashoggi’s case