Updated at 9:45 a.m. ET
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “brutally murdered” as part of a meticulous operation by a team of Saudis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday, rejecting Saudi Arabia’s claim that the death was accidental. Erdogan called for Saudi Arabia to share facts about the case and said the suspects should be tried in Turkey.
“Neither the Vienna Convention nor other international laws allow the investigation into such a brutal murder to be cloaked behind the shield of diplomatic immunity,” the president told members of his ruling party in Ankara.
Erdogan made the remarks in a much-anticipated speech about Khashoggi’s killing — remarks timed to coincide with Saudi Arabia’s high-profile Future Investment Initiative summit, dubbed “Davos in the Desert.”
State news agency Anadolu has reported that Turkish security officials say a 15-member team traveled from Saudi Arabia to Turkey just before Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. In his speech to Turkey’s parliament, Erdogan said the teams arrived in separate groups — two sets of three people and one group of nine.
“The information and evidences uncovered so far show that Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered,” Erdogan said. “Covering up such a brutal act would wound the conscience of all mankind.”
Erdogan also laid out what he called a series of troubling questions. Among them, he said: “The body of Jamal Khashoggi is still missing — why is that?”
Saudi Arabia has said Khashoggi’s body was turned over to a local collaborator but that it doesn’t know what happened to the remains afterward. On Tuesday, the Turkish president asked, “Who is the local collaborator?”
For more than two weeks, the Saudis denied that Khashoggi had died in the Saudi consulate, claiming he left within an hour. Video footage even shows what one Turkish officials referred to as an apparent “body double” — a man approximately the same height as Khashoggi and seemingly wearing some of his clothes — leaving the consulate by a back door.
Last Friday, Riyadh acknowledged Khashoggi died in the consulate, but insisted it was an accident after he was placed in a chokehold.
In dismissing the Saudi version of events, Erdogan also said the 18 people under arrest in Saudi Arabia in connection with Khashoggi’s death should be returned to Turkey to stand charges.
“The incident took place in Istanbul,” he said. “Therefore the adjudication of these … 18 people should be carried out in Istanbul, that is my proposal.”
Pressing for full disclosure of who ordered the operation that led to the killing, Erdogan also said, “leaving some security and intelligence forces holding the bag will not satisfy — neither us nor the international community.”
Turkey is pursuing the case, Erdogan said, as both a “representative of humanity’s shared conscience and also for its sovereign rights.”
CIA Director Gina Haspel is traveling to Ankara and is expected to review the evidence gathered by Turkish investigators — possibly including audio recordings that anonymous investigators have spoken about to journalists, but that have not been shared to date, according to Turkish officials.
Erdogan spoke about Khashoggi’s killing for roughly 20 minutes, beginning his remarks with what he called a “refresh” of the events surrounding the death.
The first of the three groups of Saudis arrived in Turkey at 4:30 p.m. local time the day before the killing, Erdogan said, adding that both the first and second groups took commercial flights. Then, he said, “a third team of nine people, including generals,” arrived on a private plane.
The 15 Saudis convened at the consulate about an hour before Khashoggi was due to arrive, the president said.
“The first thing they did is to remove the hard disk in the camera system of the consulate,” Erdogan said.
Preparations were also underway as those groups were en route to Turkey, Erdogan said, describing how a car left the consulate for an “exploration mission” to the Belgrad Forest north of Istanbul — an area investigators have reportedly visited in the search for Khashoggi’s remains.
Erdogan’s comments echoed widespread skepticism from the international community over Saudi Arabia’s shifting explanations for Khashoggi’s disappearance.
After initially insisting that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive, Saudi Arabia acknowledged on Friday that Khashoggi is dead, but its official statement blamed his death on a fight that broke out at the consulate. The Saudi Press Agency also said 18 Saudis had been arrested as part of a search for “all the facts.”
On Sunday, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir blamed the killing on “a rogue operation” and said his country would investigate.
Speculation about who might have given the orders has fallen on Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. While Erdogan said the killing was “pre-planned and premeditated,” he did not suggest a possible mastermind.
“Personally, I do not doubt the sincerity of his excellency the King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” Erdogan said, before stressing the importance of an “impartial and just” inquiry.