Slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s sons made an anguished, emotional appeal for the return of their father’s body in their first interview since the murder of their father at the hands of operatives connected to the office of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
Salah and Abdullah Khashoggi, speaking to CNN’s Nick Robertson, praised their father as a kind and moderate man who believed in the Saudi monarchy, and said they continued to seek answers about their father’s death as they grieved his loss and hoped to bury him at Jannat al-Baqi cemetery in the Saudi city of Medina.
“Everybody is seeking information just as we do and they think that we have answers; unfortunately we don’t,” Salah, a 35-year-old economist who had until recently been barred from leaving Saudi Arabia as punishment by Prince Mohammed for his father’s writings.
“All we want right now is to bury him in Medina with the rest of his family,” he said in the interview, aired early Monday London time. “I I just hope that it happens soon. It’s an Islamic tradition. It’s a basic humanitarian issue.”
On Monday, the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah reported allegations that Saudi Arabia dispatched a team of chemical specialists nine days after Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance in what they allege was an attempt to clean up the crime scene after the murder. A senior Turkish official confirmed the veracity of the report, which cited airport arrivals and included photographs of the suspects.
A senior Turkish official, speaking to The Independent, said that: “We believe that the two individuals 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 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.”
Salah was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia and rejoin the rest of the family in the Washington area after shaking hands with Prince Mohammed and King Salman. Abdullah, and the rest of his family, living until recently under Saudi surveillance in the United Arab Emirates managed to slip away to the US as well, said a source close to the family.
Touted by a multi-million dollar public relations campaign as a moderniser and reformer, Prince Mohammed launched a widespread crackdown on dissent that included arrests of rival members of the royal family, women’s rights activists, clerics, liberals, and even mild critics of the regime at home and abroad. Forbidden from writing or even tweeting by Prince Mohammed’s enforcers, Mr Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia for the US in what he described as a self-imposed exile.
The murder of Mr Khashoggi has brought Saudi Arabia’s human rights record into the spotlight. The country will come under scrutiny this week in Geneva at a periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council.
More than a month after Mr Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October and disappeared, the mystery of his remains continues to dog the case. After denying knowing anything about his fate for weeks, Saudi authorities admitted he was murdered by regime agents but claimed his body was handed off to a “local collaborator.” Then the Saudis changed the story again, claiming there was no local collaborator, but without explaining what became of Mr Khashoggi’s remains.
On Friday, a Turkish official close to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoganand a friend of the slain Washington Post columnist told a newspaper that his body had been cut up and dissolved in acid, but cited no evidence.
On Sunday, the newspaper Sabah, close to the Erdogan government, cited unnamed officials as saying that Mr Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and placed into five suitcases that were taken to the residence of Saudi consul general Mohammed al-Otaibi, who departed the country for Riyadh under pressure from Ankara.
The officials alleged that Maher Mutreb, an aide to Prince Mohamed, Salah Tubeigy, chief of forensics in Riyadh, and Thaar al-Harbi, were three key members of the 15-man kill team that murdered Mr Khashoggi and got rid of his body.
“Something bad happened,” Abdullah told CNN, when asked what he imagined happened to his 59-year-old father. “I really hoped that whatever happened wasn’t painful for him, that it was quick, that he had a peaceful death.”
Mr Erdogan said in a Washington Post piece that the orders to murder Mr Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi state, but excluded King Salman, pointing the finger squarely at Prince Mohammed, the 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne. In response, the Crown Prince’s defenders have begun attacking Mr Erdogan over his own nation’s human rights record. The pro-Saudi Okaz newspaper on Sunday derided “all the fuss” about Mr Khashoggi and “the torrent of lies trying to undermine the reputation of Saudis.”
The Khashoggi brothers said the family – including their sisters Noha, 27 and Razan, 25 – continued to be in shock over the killing, aggravated by a stream of what they called misinformation smearing their father as an extremist.
Shortly after his disappearance, Prince Mohammed called the White House and branded Mr Khashoggi a dangerous Islamist, according to The New York Timesand Washington Post. A chorus of hardline pro-Israel voices, eager to bolster the anti-Iran partnership between Riyadh and Washington, has also joined the campaign to describe him as unworthy of sympathy because of his political beliefs.
“It’s just labels and people not doing their homework properly,” Abdullah said of those calling his father a hard-line Islamist.
Salah said his father would want to be remembered “as a moderate man who has common values with everyone” and believed in the potential of Saudi Arabia.
“He believed in the monarchy that it is the thing that is keeping the country together,” he said.
Abdullah told CNN he managed to visit his father before his death in Istanbul and met Hatice Cengiz, his fiance. “He was happy,” Abdullah said. “I think I was very lucky to have that last moment with him.”
After his death, Abdullah was the family member who first entered his Washington apartment, and was surprised to see pictures of all three of his grandchildren prominently at his bedside. “Going to the apartment was the most emotional moment,” he said, gesturing towards a picture of the three grandkids.
“His grandchildren was the last thing he looked at before he went to bed,” he said. “It put an emphasis on his gentle, tender side of loving his family, his grandkids. It touched me personally.”