Latest leak in Khashoggi murder reveals violent confrontation at Saudi consulate: 'You will be brought to account!'

Borzou Daragahi

 

A detailed account of a recording of Jamal Khashoggi’s last hours has emerged – in which a Saudi officer is heard telling the journalist: “Traitor! You will be brought to account!”

Moments after the 59-year-old entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul seven weeks ago, members of a kill team dispatched from Riyadh grabbed him and dragged him away. “Release my arm! What do you think you are doing?” Khashoggi says, according to a report of a recording from inside the consulate by Turkish news outlet Haberturk.

“Traitor! You will be brought to account!” an intelligence officer is heard saying moments later. Maher Mutreb, the officer, has been identified as a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Next Khashoggi is subdued, and the sounds of beating and torture are heard before the victim is taken to another section of the consulate and murdered, according to the report.

Image from surveillance footage shows Saudi officer Maher Mutreb, leader of the kill team, entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (Haberturk)

Haberturk’s account of what it says is an 11-minute recording is among the biggest pieces of evidence to emerge so far. The report comes amid a flood of leaks by Turkish authorities about Khashoggi’s murder at the hand of Saudi operatives with close ties to the court of prince Muhammad. The columnist behind the piece, Cetiner Cetin, is well connected to authorities in Ankara. He does not disclose whether he heard the recording, read a transcript, or was briefed.

The leak comes as President Donald Trump is scheduled to be briefed by US intelligence agencies on their conclusions about culpability in the killing. The Washington Post, New York Times and others have cited US spies pointing to the crown prince having directed the killing.

But Mr Trump, who sees the prince as a cornerstone for weapons sales, as well as to his plans to confront Iran and forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace, insisted in an interview with Fox News over the weekend that Prince Muhammad has proclaimed his innocence to him “maybe five times at different points”. He said he was inclined to take the 33-year-old’s word over the assessment of US intelligence professionals. “Will anybody really know?” he said, regarding culpability in the killing.

 

Saudi authorities announced last week they were seeking the death penalty for five suspects in Khashoggi’s murder but absolved the prince of culpability, a move that satisfied the White House. However, US lawmakers have vowed to hold the crown prince responsible.

On Monday, Germany announced it was expanding a ban on weapons exports to Saudi Arabia due to the Khashoggi killing and Riyadh’s conduct in the Yemen conflict. France is also considering sanctions against individuals involved. But it remains unclear how freezing the bank accounts and barring travel for low and mid-ranking enforcers already destined for the gallows or prison will curtail the increasingly reckless behaviour of one of the world’s largest weapons importers and oil exporters.

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday. Mr Guterres has been under pressure to launch an independent investigation of the Washington Post columnist’s murder. Mr Cavusoglu is scheduled to meet his US counterpart Mike Pompeo later on the same day.

Hundreds of mourners gather in Istanbul last Friday for a traditional Muslim burial ceremony for Jamal Khashoggi, but without his body (Tara Todras-Whitehill)

In the recording of Khashoggi’s last hours, Turks captured seven voices from the consulate. They matched some to names using recordings taken during passport control at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, the Haberturk report said. Among those heard was Saudi consul general Mohammed al-Otaibi, who flew back to Riyadh last month and has not been heard from since.

Bugging a diplomatic mission is a violation of international law, and Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar on Monday denied that the state had obtained the recordings through espionage but declined to reveal the source.

The Haberturk report alleges that Mr Mutreb could be heard in 19 phone calls made from the consulate to Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide of Prince Muhammad who is now being investigated for the murder. It says his voice can be heard 13 minutes after Khashoggi entered the consulate.

It is creepy to wear the clothes of a man whom we killed 20 minutes ago


Mustafa al-Madani, member of Saudi kill team

After Khashoggi’s manhandling, he was moved upstairs, and the report describes 110 minutes of silence during which Turks suspect the Saudis deployed frequency jammers. During one moment, the recordings capture several men rushing downstairs and destroying security camera footage.

Khashoggi’s remains have yet to be located. Turkish officials have concluded he was dismembered and dissolved in acid.

The recording recounted by Haberturk reveals how 57-year-old Saudi engineer Mustafa al-Madani, who donned Khashoggi’s clothes and wandered the city in an attempt to fool surveillance cameras, complains that the journalist’s shoes are too small. He’s allowed to wear his own sneakers instead.

Before he leaves the consulate, he adds: “It is creepy to wear the clothes of a man whom we killed 20 minutes ago.”