Erdogan points finger at Saudi ‘puppet masters’ in Khashoggi case


–Turkish president says Saudi Arabia still has many questions to answer regarding the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government but said he does not believe King Salman ordered the hit.

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Erdogan said that Saudi Arabia still has many questions to answer about the death of Khashoggi.

“We must reveal the identities of the puppet masters behind Khashoggi’s killing”, Erdogan wrote adding that Turkey has “moved heaven and earth to shed light on all aspects of this case”.

“We are shocked and saddened by the efforts of certain Saudi officials to cover up Khashoggi’s premeditated murder, rather than serve the cause of justice, as our friendship would require,” Erdogan said.

Khashoggi, 59, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate on October 2.

A Turkish prosecutor said on Wednesday that Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered soon after he walked into the Saudi consulate.

The case has provoked international condemnation, but one month after Khashoggi was killed, the joint Turkish and Saudi probe has made little progress and many questions remain unanswered.

Erdogan expressed dismay that Khashoggi’s body has not been found and urged Saudi Arabia to explain who ordered the killing and also to identify the “local collaborator” to whom Saudi officials said they handed over Khashoggi’s remains.

“Unfortunately, the Saudi authorities have refused to answer those questions,” Erdogan said.

In a sign of cooperating, a top Saudi prosecutor flew to Turkey on Monday and met the Istanbul chief prosecutor, but Turkey’s justice minister has since accused the Saudis of failing to answer questions regarding the case.

“Though Riyadh has detained 18 suspects, it is deeply concerning that no action has been taken against the Saudi consul general, who lied through his teeth to the media and fled Turkey shortly afterwards,” Erdogan said.

“Likewise, the refusal of the Saudi public prosecutor – who recently visited his counterpart in Istanbul – to cooperate with the investigation and answer even simple questions is very frustrating. His invitation of Turkish investigators to Saudi Arabia for more talks about the case felt like a desperate and deliberate stalling tactic.”

Etyen Mahcupyan, a Turkish political analyst and former adviser to ex-AK Party leader Ahmet Davutoglu said that Erdogan has taken an aggressive stance in his op-ed, but has made sure to keep good relations with Saudi Arabia.

“He doesn’t want to disrupt everything and lose Saudi Arabia. Turkey does not want to lose Saudi Arabia at the end of the day,” Mahcupyan said.

“He’s kind of threatening Saudi Arabia, maybe blackmailing a bit in a soft way, but he’s giving the message that Turkey wants to go on with having good relations with Saudi Arabia.

“It gives leverage to Turkey to be used by Erdogan, but it’s not something very ideological or something that will cost him his principles. This is foreign policy.”

Erdogan also displayed more conciliatory language in the op-ed, stressing the “friendly relations” between Saudi Arabia and Turkey and stating that he had “no reason to believe that this murder reflected Saudi Arabia’s official policy”.

Erdogan has previously said that the killing of Khashoggi was planned by Saudi officials days in advance.

Hilal Kaplan, a columnist at pro-government Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, said that with this op-ed, Erdogan is trying to keep the Khashoggi case in the international spotlight.

She noted that Turkey has done a great job in shedding light on many details as information was steadily leaked to the media over the past month.

“With this communications strategy, Turkey was able to control the narrative and keep the Khashoggi murder in the headlines while the public debate continued as the investigation moved along,” Kaplan said.

“This pressured the Saudis to accept the fact that this was a premeditated murder.

“They were in flat denial at first, but then after changing their story several times, they had to accept [this fact].”

Kaplan added that although Erdogan doesn’t mention Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) name and has always emphasized his respect and good intentions towards King Salman, the Turkish president implied in the op-ed that the crown prince is the one who gave the order.

“The crown prince most probably knew about this, he ordered this. At least 5 of the 15 members of the death squad are in the royal guard. And the head of the death squad, [reportedly] made four calls to MBS’ office on the day of the murder,” Kaplan said.

“All evidence points to him, not anyone else.”

US media reported on Thursday that MBS described Khashoggi as a “dangerous Islamist” in a phone call with Jared Kushner and John Bolton, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and national security adviser respectively, days after Khashoggi’s disappearance and before Saudi Arabia publicly acknowledged his killing.

Kaplan said that the call, which was reported by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was an attempt by MBS to justify the killing of Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia has denied the media reports.

Last week Trump said that MBS bears ultimate responsibility for the operation that led to the murder of Khashoggi.

When questioned about the possible involvement of MBS in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said, “Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage.

“He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”