Clean-up team erased evidence

Human rights activists and friends of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold his pictures during a protest outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 8, 2018.
Human rights activists and friends of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold his pictures during a protest outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 8, 2018.
Image: REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

Saudi Arabia sent a two-man clean-up team to erase evidence of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing a week after he disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a Turkish official said on Monday, calling it a sign that top Saudi officials knew of the crime.

Confirming a report in Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper, the official said the chemist and toxicologist were tasked with erasing evidence before Turkish investigators were given access to the Saudi consulate and consul’s residence.

Sabah identified the two men as Ahmed Abdulaziz alJonabi and Khaled Yahya alZahrani, saying they arrived in Turkey as part of an 11-person team sent to carry out the inspections with Turkish officials.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared at the consulate on October 2.

Saudi officials initially insisted Khashoggi had left the consulate, then said he died in an unplanned “rogue operation”.

The kingdom’s public prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, later said he was killed in a premeditated attack.

Turkish and Saudi officials have carried out joint inspections of the consulate and consul’s residence in Istanbul, but President Tayyip Erdogan says some Saudi officials are still trying to cover up the crime.

Ankara has also demanded Riyadh co-operate in finding Khashoggi’s body, which Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said had been dismembered.

A senior Turkish official confirmed the names of the men identified on Monday by Sabah.

“We believe that the two insolved dividuals came to Turkey for the sole purpose of covering up evidence of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder before the Turkish police were allowed to search the premises,” the official said.

The two individuals carried out clean-up operations at the consulate and the consul’s residence in Istanbul until October 17 and left the country three days later, he said.

“The fact that a clean-up team was dispatched from Saudi Arabia nine days after the murder suggests that Khashoggi’s slaying was within the knowledge of top Saudi officials,” the official said.

More than a month after the Saudi royal-insider-turned-critic was killed inside the mission, Turkey has yet to recover the remains amid other claims that Khashoggi’s body was disin acid. The killing of the 59-year-old has severely dented the kingdom's image in the West.

It has also put powerful Crown Prince Mohammed on the defensive.

The report said al-Jonabi and al-Zahrani visited the consulate daily from October 11 until October 17.

Saudi Arabia only allowed Turkish police to finally search the consulate on October 15.

After weeks of allegations in pro-government media, Turkey's chief prosecutor last week confirmed Khashoggi was strangled as soon as he entered the consulate and the body was dismembered.

But despite intensive searches by Turkish police, there is no trace of his remains.

The sons of Khashoggi, Salah and Abdullah, told CNN they wanted Saudi Arabia to return the body so he could be buried in Medina with the rest of his family.

Turkey's allegation of the deployment of a "clean-up" team came after an adviser to the president, Yasin Aktay, hinted on Friday the body may have been destroyed in acid.

Although Riyadh has arrested 18 individuals on suspicion of involvement, the key question remains over who gave the order to kill Khashoggi.

In an editorial published in The Washington Post on Friday, Erdogan said it came from the highest levels of the Saudi government, while he did not believe for a second that Saudi's King Salman had ordered the crime. – Reuters, with additional reporting by AFP