Vans and jets: Inside Turkey’s evidence on Saudi journalist’s assassins

The new videos and photos appear to show a car and van leaving the consulate one hour and 50 minutes after Khashoggi is seen entering.

October 10, 2018 22:13
3 minute read.
A demonstrator holds picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest in front of Saudi

A demonstrator holds picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 5, 2018. (photo credit: OSMAN ORSAL/REUTERS)


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New video released to Turkish media on October 10 is expected to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia, as Ankara points the finger at the kingdom for the disappearance of a well-known journalist and former Riyadh insider. Jamal Khashoggi went to Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on October 2 and hasn’t been seen since. His fiancée called a close adviser to Turkey’s president, and Turkey is seeking answers.

On Wednesday, Turkish media published photos of a 15-man assassination squad. The Hürriyet Daily News shows the blurred faces of several men at one of Istanbul’s airports; one man named “Salah” was shown arriving in Turkey at 3:38 a.m. and leaving at 8:29 p.m. on October 2. Nine of the fifteen members of the team “brought suitcases, but did not take them back to their countries when they departed,” according to the report. The men did not all arrive at the same time. One came at 1:45 a.m. and left on a private jet at 9:46 p.m.; another came on a charter flight at 4:12 p.m. and then left on a 9:45 p.m. flight. An additional part of the group left at 5 p.m. in the afternoon, while a last man left on October 3 just after midnight.

The controversy continues to rile Turkey, the region, and Washington. The president of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said Ankara should review relations with Riyadh and declare Saudi diplomats personae non gratae.

The new videos and photos appear to show a car and van leaving the consulate one hour and 50 minutes after Khashoggi is seen entering. Then the black van is seen driving 2 km. to the home of Saudi Arabia’s consul. Another video shows a white van rendezvous with the private jet that is destined to fly to Riyadh.

The selective leaking of information about the case appears to be Ankara’s way of pressuring Saudi Arabia and the US, a key Riyadh ally, to reveal more about what happened to Khashoggi. Turkey has presented both pieces of evidence of suspicious comings and goings at the consulate, along with time stamps, airplane landing schedules, and a video of Khashoggi entering the country to bolster the claims that he has disappeared and was targeted by the Saudis.

US Vice President Mike Pence has now offered to send the FBI to aid in the investigation. Ankara also wants to search the consulate, which is an unusual and unprecedented move. Saudi Arabia has been pressured to comply. There is controversy within Turkey over the official line and the leaked information to foreign media. Yasin Aktay, ruling Justice and Development Party adviser on foreign policy, said he does not blame Saudi Arabia for the disappearance.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel has also sought to push a narrative that there are “mysterious” questions about some of those linked to Khashoggi and the consulate. This is regarded by some as an attempt to insinuate that there may be more to the story. So far no one has shown evidence of what happened. There are missing details, such as what was brought to the van and what, or who, was removed from the van. The videos do not show a person being moved, either an incapacitated person, someone being detained or a body, as some allegations have suggested.

However, Turkey may be waiting to release a final video in order to accurately present the evidence, in an attempt to pressure Riyadh. American authorities have not suggested they are aware of what happened, and the offer of an FBI team to investigate would indicate that Ankara has not shared any other details with Washington.

Turkey and US relations have recently frayed over the US role in Syria and a Turkish-detained US pastor. The Khashoggi case may present Turkey with a way to gain support in the US. Ankara has been slowly building that support as sympathetic statements from US politicians, policy-makers and major media pour in. These statements generally condemn Saudi Arabia or call for a thorough investigation in which the US and Turkey would likely grow closer as they search for answers. If the final evidence of Khashoggi’s disappearance cannot be produced, Turkey may find it cannot use it to weaken the US-Saudi alliance. This comes in the wake of Turkey’s alliance with Qatar and its tensions with Riyadh.

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