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Knot in the plot: Saudi paints Khashoggi's death as a murder

By Sheetal Sukhija, Pennsylvania State News
22 Oct 2018, 16:29 GMT+10

WASHINGTON, U.S. - For 17 days, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remained unfazed despite mounting fears of anarchy, threats of sanctions and scathing international criticism.

Only the fear of its regional supremacy being challenged forced Saudi Arabia to detract from its obstinate act of feigning ignorance over the fate of one of its most prominent critic.

On October 2, when 59-year-old Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi failed to emerge out of the Saudi consulate in Turkey, questions over his disappearance began to mount.

As hours turned into days, and days into weeks, Saudi was questioned about Khashoggi's mysterious disappearance not just by the journalist's relatives, well wishers and colleagues, but by international activists and western governments.

Turkey's increasingly morbid allegations did little to deter Saudi from its resolute campaign to sell a simple story and deny every other conspiracy as fake news. 

Saudi repeatedly offered a single line clarification that Khashoggi walked out of the building alive and well, before returning to its stony silence.  

However, concerns over the veteran journalist's safety only intensified as the world learnt more about decades of Khashoggi's history with the Royal Family and his recent criticism of the young Crown Prince.

With the story dominating global headlines for days, Saudi's ongoing crackdown on dissent pointed at its inevitable role in Khashoggi's disappearance.

However, its refusal to comment on the raging scandal forced international media organizations, big businesses and corporations to pull the plug on their grand investment plans that the Kingdom was hoping to secure to build a future that is not completely reliant on oil. 

What eventually caused Saudi to break its silence was the public confrontation it faced from its most powerful allies in the West.

On Saturday, in a detailed admission possibly aimed at burying the scandal, Saudi announced that Khashoggi was dead and those responsible were being punished. 

The Kingdom said that the general prosecutor's preliminary investigation found that Khashoggi was killed during a fist fight at the consulate on October 2. 

The statement explained that Khashoggi met with a group of people at the consulate after expressing interest in returning to Saudi Arabia, but talks led to an argument, which quickly escalated into a fist fight that led to his death.

Offering "deep regret at the painful development," the Kingdom declared that 18 Saudi nationals had been arrested and five top government officials had been fired over the handling of the case.

World offers skepticism

While Saudi's confession on Khashoggi's killing was widely praised by its allies in the Middle East, the admission failed to convince its international allies or silence its critics.

The Kingdom's critics were quick to denounce the account as a cover up to a horrific crime, several of Saudi Arabia's powerful western allies unanimously demanded more details.

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was amongst the first world leaders to react to Saudi's admission.

In a speech on Sunday, Erdogan declared that his country was seeking justice over the journalist's death and promised to reveal all the explosive details of Turkey's investigation during his weekly speech in parliament on Tuesday.

He said, "We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth. The incident will be revealed entirely."

European leaders cited the lack of clarity in Saudi's explanation of Khashoggi's killing and demanded credible fact. 

The United Kingdom, Germany and France released a joint statement saying, "Nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened on October 2nd - beyond the hypotheses that have been raised so far in the Saudi investigation, which need to be backed by facts to be considered credible. We will ultimately make our judgement based on the credibility of the further explanation we receive about what happened and our confidence that such a shameful event cannot and will not ever be repeated."

Meanwhile, the U.S. President Donald Trump's response to Saudi's admission faced some initial criticism as he said, "I am not satisfied until we find the answer. But it was a big first step, it was a good first step. But I want to get to the answer."

Later, in a more detailed response, Trump admitted during an interview with the Washington Post that "obviously there's been deception, and there's been lies."

Yet, Trump continued to defend Saudi Arabia as an "incredible ally," and praised the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a "strong person" with "very good control," expressing hope that he was not involved.

However, Trump's failure to confront Saudi Arabia strongly contrasted the stern reaction by several senior Republicans and Democrats, who proposed a range of severe punishments, including sanctions, reducing arms sales and even expelling of the Saudi ambassador.

Saudi switches the plot

Just as quickly as the focus shifted from Saudi's silence to its eventual confession last week, the plot witnessed yet another twist merely 24 hours after the Kingdom's detailed but doubted admission.

With the many holes in the Kingdom's story becoming apparent and the inconsistent narrative leading to more questions, Saudi decided to switch the plot.

Late on Sunday, the Kingdom tried to contain the fallout from the scandal and attempted to shield the crown prince and de facto ruler from growing speculation over his possible involvement.

In a direct statement, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir denied that the powerful young crown prince had ordered Khashoggi's killing and said the act was a "tremendous mistake."

Al-Jubeir said, "This was an operation that was a rogue operation. This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made a mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi."

Describing the incident as murder, Al-Jubeir said, "We are determined to find out all the facts. And we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder. The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority. There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up."

He pointed out that they did not know where the body was and insisted that the action was not ordered by the Crown Prince.

He said, "Even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this."

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