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Turkish president says Jamal Khashoggi’s killing was a planned operation

Erdogan's remarks reflect details uncovered by Turkish investigators.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters during a ceremony on March 18, 2018.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters during a ceremony on March 18, 2018.Read moreKostas Tsironis / Bloomberg

ISTANBUL – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a "planned" and "brutal" murder and called on Saudi Arabia to extradite 18 suspects to Turkey to face justice for the crime.

His comments, during a speech to his ruling party in Ankara, the Turkish capital, contradicted Saudi accounts that Khashoggi was killed when an argument escalated into a fistfight. Erdogan urged the Saudi authorities to reveal whether senior officials had been involved in planning the killing, suggesting Turkey was unsatisfied with the explanations that Saudi authorities had so far provided.

"Covering up this kind of savagery will hurt the conscience of all humanity," he said. "Saudi Arabia took an important step by accepting the murder. After this, we expect them to reveal those responsible for this matter."

"We have information that the murder is not instant, but planned," he said.

Since Khashoggi's death three weeks ago after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey have offered sharply differing versions of what happened to him. The Saudi story has shifted dramatically over time, from assertions he walked out of the consulate unharmed to finally acknowledging Khashoggi had been killed, allegedly in a fistfight that involved "rogue" Saudi agents.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Tuesday that the kingdom was committed to a "comprehensive investigation" into the journalist's death and had dispatched a team to Turkey.

But Turkish officials, from the start, have said Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated fashion by a team of Saudi operatives who were dispatched to Istanbul from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and that his body was later dismembered. Over the past three weeks, Turkish officials have dribbled out details of their investigation to the news media that are intended to bolster their case as well as to force a confession – and possibly other concessions – from the Saudi leadership, analysts said.

Speaking in Indonesia on Tuesday, Jubeir said that the Saudi investigators had "uncovered evidence of a murder." He also vowed to put mechanisms in place that would prevent similar incidents in future, without expanding upon what those would be.

Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post who had written columns critical of the Saudi leadership over the last year, had gone to the consulate on the afternoon of Oct. 2 to obtain documents that would allow him to remarry.

His death has cast a harsh light on the rule of the Saudi Arabia's young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who has eased social restrictions at home while pursuing an unrelenting crackdown on rivals and critics, imprisoning hundreds. Mohammed has also tried to lure exiled dissidents like Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia, back to Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi's friends and other exiles said.

Shortly after Erdogan takes the stage in Ankara, Mohammed is expected to make his own appearance in Riyadh, opening a landmark investment conference intended to signal afresh that the kingdom is open for business.

But while the guest list for last year's bonanza read like a who's-who of the global business elite, the run-up to Tuesday's event has been marred by pull-outs from a stream of Western investors and politicians, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and International Monetary Fund chair Christine Lagarde.

Tuesday's audience is expected to be dominated instead by representatives Middle Eastern, Asian and Russian companies, suggesting that the Western boycott may have a limited impact on Saudi economic prospects.

The Khashoggi case has also embarrassed the Trump administration, which regards the crown prince as one of its closest Arab allies and Saudi Arabia as a cornerstone of a U.S. strategy to counter Iran. CIA Director Gina Haspel headed to Turkey Monday, where she is expected to assess the strength of the evidence that Turkish officials have been drip-feeding the media for weeks.

A stream of Turkish video leaks that surfaced on Monday appeared to depict the Saudis trying to cover their tracks after Khashoggi's death, including images said to be of men at the consulate burning documents and a body double wearing Khashoggi's clothes, to make it appear the journalist had walked out of the consulate as the Saudis claimed.

The leaks also seemed intended to whip up a sense of anticipation ahead of the speech by Erdogan, who has chided the Saudis in recent weeks for not cooperating with the Turkish investigation but stopped short of blaming the Saudi government for Khashoggi's death.

On Sunday, in a preview of his speech, Erdogan said he would explain the episode "in a very different way," the semiofficial Anadolu news agency reported.

"The incident will be revealed entirely," he said.

The Washington Post's Louisa Loveluck in Beirut contributed to this report.