Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he has provided recordings of the alleged murder of Saudi journalist in self-imposed exile Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to Saudi Arabia, Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
Khashoggi, a frequent critic of Saudi Arabia's ruling monarchy and the kingdom's de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, went missing in October 2018 after entering the facility to secure documents for an upcoming marriage. It quickly became clear that he was murdered inside by agents of the Saudi security state, and a stream of leaks from Turkish officials concerning the alleged recording appears to have been crucial in getting the Saudis to admit that he was indeed killed.
Saudi officials claim the murder of Khashoggi was unsanctioned, something that blows past the boundaries of plausibility, and have detained 18 suspects. Per the Post:
"We gave it to Saudi Arabia," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke at Ankara airport before departing for Paris for commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. "We gave it to America. To the Germans, French, English, we gave it to all of them."
It was the first time that Erdogan has publicly acknowledged the existence of audio recording that Turkish officials say backs the assertion that Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post World Opinions section, was killed by a 15-member Saudi hit team after he entered the consulate on Oct. 2.
It's unclear how the recording was obtained. While some sources have reported that Khashoggi wore an Apple Watch inside the consulate that ended up recording its owner's demise, experts have said that explanation is not realistic and it is more likely Turkish officials do not want to admit they bugged the embassy in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention.
Other reporting has suggested that one of the crown prince's top advisers and enforcers, Saud al-Qahtani, ordered the killing via Skype.
A senior German official told the Post that the head of the Federal Intelligence Service listened to the audio recording, in which a Saudi death squad allegedly choked Khashoggi to death over the course of seven minutes, and said it was "very convincing." Another Turkish official briefed on the tape said that during a meeting with a top Saudi prosecutor, the latter party seemed more interested in learning what evidence they had obtained than disclosing any new findings.
Per the Wall Street Journal, Turkish officials had previously declined to share the tape with their Saudi counterparts, in what would seem to be a clear indication that they had preferred to leave the latter party out of the loop on what exactly the recording contains and how it was obtained.
The Journal reported that a Saudi official had "listened to part of the recording" sometime last month; per the Post, it's unclear whether Erdogan has now provided an actual copy of the tape or if he was referring to that limited exchange.
Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron are meeting in Paris this weekend (where Erdogan is joining them). According to CNN, a spokesman for Macron took a similar stance to Trump, who has been reluctant to impose penalties on Saudi Arabia in response:
Both leaders agreed "something very serious happened — that this assassination was serious and unacceptable," the spokesman said at a briefing on the bilateral talks.
However, neither leader wants to do anything that could destabilize Saudi Arabia, the spokesman said, adding that the United States considered Saudi Arabia to be the "cornerstone of everything in the Middle East."
The leaders did not discuss what should happen to the culprits, the spokesman noted, describing it as an "internal Saudi matter."
The Saudi response to the incident so far has not been encouraging. The biggest internal development there has been the 18 arrests, as well as a shake-up of the country's intelligence services to further entrench bin Salman's control.
While the extent of the information Turkey shared with the Saudi government is unclear, a Saudi official has reportedly listened to at least "part of" the tape, and it is possible a full exchange has occurred by now.