Around 18 people – believed to be connected with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – have been arrested, while five senior officials close to the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman have been dismissed on Saturday.
The dismissed officials include his trusted adviser Saud al-Qahtani and his deputy chief of general intelligence General Ahmed al-Assiri, who is regarded as the right-hand man of the Crown Prince.
The involvement of those from the close ring of Crown Prince has raised a series of questions about the role of Mohammed Bin Salman, who has been recently attempting to play a role of a reformist. Many argue that it is a disguise for Kingdom’s crackdown on dissent.
Initially, denying that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate at Istanbul, the Saudi government had insisted that he had left from the premises where he had arrived to procure documents for his divorce. However, following the leaks by Turkish authorities of information – allegedly procured from audio clips – the Saudi government initiated an investigation, and has now acknowledged that Khashoggi was murdered in its Istanbul consulate.
“Preliminary investigations carried out by the Public Prosecution into the disappearance case of the citizen Jamal bin Ahmad Khashoggi revealed that the discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him during his attendance in the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul led to a quarrel and a brawl with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi, resulted in his death,” Saudi state-media reported.
From among the 15 men who, according to Turkish authorities, flew from Saudi to Turkey, and were present at the consulate in Istanbul when Khashoggi arrived, at least eight have been identified to be members of Saudi royal military.
In this team that flew in was also Dr. Salah Muhammed, the highest authority in the forensic team of Saudi General Security Department, whose presence there – supposedly to dispose his body without a trace – raises suspicion over the Saudi version that Khashoggi was killed in a fist-fight that accidentally broke out at the embassy, rather than in a pre-planned operation. His body has not yet been recovered and Saudi’s version of what caused his death does not explain what happened to it.
According to the leaks by the Turkish government, which most likely had bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the team that had arrived from Saudi killed Khashoggi and cut his body into numerous pieces using a bone saw. According to the US officials, the audio and video recordings allegedly proving this are in possession of Turkish officials, and CIA is said to have listened to the audio which was made available to the US. The availability of CCTV footage further bolsters Turkish claims. It reportedly shows this Saudi team and their arrival in Istanbul via two jets owned by the king on the day of the murder. By the evening of the same day, the jets had departed as well.
Apart from the incredibility of the claim that such a sophisticated operation could be carried out by the high-ranking and trusted officials of the Crown Prince without his authorisation, Prince Salman’s history of authorising illegal operations casts a further suspicion.
In November last year, at the time when the crown prince was eliminating his rival princes from the same family by house-arresting them, the prime minister of Lebanon was virtually abducted on his landing in Riyadh, and was forced to resign from his office in order to weaken Hezbollah, as a part of Saudi’s proxy war against Iran.