Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered last year after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)
From BBC Panorama in Istanbul
Warning: The content of this article may be considered strong by some readers.
I walked down a tree-lined street in a quiet area of Istanbul, Turkey, and approached a cream-colored mansion full of security cameras.
A year ago, on October 2, 2018, Saudi exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi made the same journey. He was recorded by security cameras – and that would be his last image.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate and was assassinated by a death squad.
Khashoggi arriving at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul (Photo: REUTERS)
But the consulate was tapped by Turkish intelligence, and the planning and execution of the crime was recorded. The tapes were heard by only a few people. Two of them spoke exclusively to the BBC's Panorama program.
British lawyer Helena Kennedy heard the closing moments of Jamal Khashoggi.
"The horror of hearing someone's voice, the fear in someone's voice, and the fact that you're listening to it live makes a chill go through your body," he said.
'It's a scary business,' says attorney Helena Kennedy. (Photo:) Kennedy made detailed notes of the conversations he heard among members of the Saudi squad.
Kennedy took detailed notes of the conversations he heard among members of the Saudi squad.
"You can hear them laughing. It's a scary business. They're waiting there, knowing that man will come in and be murdered and quartered."
Kennedy was invited to join a team led by Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.
Callamard, a human rights expert, spoke of his determination to use his own mandate to investigate the murder when the UN was reluctant to set up an international criminal investigation.
Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur, listened to 45 minutes of recording with attorney Kennedy (Photo:)
It took a week to convince Turkish intelligence to let her and Kennedy, along with an Arabic translator, listen to the tapes.
"Turkey's clear intention to give me access was to help me prove that there was planning and forethought," he said.
They listened to a total of 45 minutes of audio, taken from recordings made on two crucial days.
Jamal Khashoggi had been in Istanbul for a few weeks – a city where opponents of Middle East regimes have long sought refuge – when he was killed.
Father of four, the 59-year-old divorced journalist had recently become engaged to Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish academic researcher.
They planned to build a life together in this cosmopolitan city, but to remarry Khashoggi needed the divorce papers.
On September 28, 2018, he and Cengiz went to a municipal office, but were informed that they needed to obtain the documents from the Saudi consulate.
"He had to go get these documents from the consulate to get us officially married because he could not return to his country," Cengiz told me when I met her at a cafe.
Hatice Cengiz, Turkish researcher, was engaged to Jamal Khashoggi (Photo:)
Khashoggi was not always marginalized, exiled from his own country. I met him 15 years ago at the Saudi embassy in Mayfair, London. At that time he was at the heart of the Saudi institution: he was the ambassador's assistant.
We discussed a recent al-Qaeda terrorist attack. Khashoggi had known his Saudi leader, Osama Bin Laden, for decades.
Initially, Khashoggi had some sympathy for al-Qaeda's goal of overthrowing autocratic Middle Eastern regimes. But later, he spoke out against the group's atrocities as his views became more liberal and in defense of democracy.
Jamal Khashoggi with journalist Jane Corbin in 2004 (Photo:)
In 2007, he returned to Saudi Arabia to edit the pro-government newspaper al-Watan. But he was fired three years later for what he described as "defying the boundaries of debate in Saudi society."
Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most repressive regimes in the world, but has little opposition from Western governments, thanks to its strategic role in the Middle East (both geopolitical, anti-Iranian, and energetic, as a major oil producer). .
In 2011, inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, Khashoggi spoke out against the Saudi regime, which he saw as repressive and autocratic. In 2017, he was banned from writing and self-exiled in the United States. His then wife was forced to divorce him.
Khashoggi became a contributor to The Washington Post, for which he wrote 20 blunt columns the year before his death in 2017.
"When he was editor in the (Saudi) kingdom, he ignored the dangers," says his friend David Ignatius, senior foreign affairs columnist and investigative journalist for the Washington Post.
"What I saw was that Jamal kept getting into trouble by saying what he thought."
Khashoggi wrote 20 columns for the American newspaper The Washington Post (Photo:)
Much of Khashoggi's criticism was directed at Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
MBS, as he is known, was admired by many in the West – seen as a reformer and modernizer, with a new vision for his country.
But in Saudi Arabia, he repressed dissent, and Khashoggi was highlighting this in the pages of the Washington Post.
Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (Photo: REUTERS)
This was not the image the Crown Prince wanted to project.
"I think this particularly exacerbated the Crown Prince, and he kept asking his aides to do something about this Jamal problem," says Ignatius, who regularly visits Saudi Arabia and writes about the country's policy.
In Istanbul, the Saudis had the opportunity to "do something" about Khashoggi.
On the day of his first visit to the consulate, Cengiz had to be outside.
She remembers the groom leaving the building with a smile on his face. He said authorities were surprised to see him and offered tea and coffee.
"He said there was nothing to fear, he missed his country so much that breathing that familiar air had done him good."
Khashoggi was told to come back in a few days.
But as soon as he left, phone calls were made to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia – all recorded by Turkish intelligence.
"The interesting thing about this call is that he referred to Khashoggi as one of the wanted people," says UN Special Advisor Callamard.
The first call is believed to have alerted Saud al-Qahtani, the Crown Prince's powerful adviser in charge of the communications office.
"Someone in the communications office has authorized the mission. It makes sense to see this reference to the communications office as a reference to Saud al-Qahtani," he adds.
Saud al-Qahtani, the Crown Prince's powerful communications advisor (Photo: TWITTER)
Al-Qahtani had already been accused of involvement in the arrest and torture of dissidents in Saudi Arabia, as female activists who dared to drive before the ban was lifted and high-level officials suspected of disloyalty.
In his texts, Khashoggi accused al-Qahtani of operating a "black list" for the crown prince.
"Qahtani began providing extraordinary services – covert operations," says Ignatius, who investigated the royal aide.
"It became part of his portfolio, and he achieved it with a particular cruelty."
On September 28, 2018, there are records of at least four phone calls between the consulate and Riyadh. This includes talks between the Consul General and the head of security at the Foreign Ministry, who told him that an ultra-secret mission – "a national duty" was planned.
There is no doubt that this was a seriously and highly organized mission that came from above, says attorney Kennedy.
"It was not a rebel operation apart."
On the afternoon of October 1, three Saudi intelligence officers flew to Istanbul. What is known is that two worked in the Crown Prince's office.
Callamard believes they were on a reconnaissance mission.
"They probably evaluated the consulate building, determined what could and could not be done."
On a quiet, shady Istanbul terrace overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, I meet a former Turkish intelligence officer with 27 years of experience.
Metin Ersöz specializes in Saudi Arabia and its special missions. And according to him, intelligence services became more aggressive after Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince.
Metin Ersöz, former Turkish intelligence officer (Photo:)
"They started kidnapping operations and pressuring dissidents," he says.
"Khashoggi was slow to recognize the threat and take precautions, and paid a heavy price for it."
In the early hours of October 2, a private jet landed at Istanbul airport.
On board were nine Saudis – including a coroner named Salah al-Tubaigy.
Salah al-Tubaigy, Saudi coroner (Photo:)
After checking their identities and backgrounds, Callamard believes it was the Saudi death squad.
"The operation was conducted by state officials, they were acting as employees," she says.
"Two of them had diplomatic passports."
Ersöz says such a mission – a special operation – would need the approval of the Saudi king or the crown prince.
The Saudis entered the imposing and impersonal Mövenpick …
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