London: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was being "negotiated" to return back to Saudi Arabia and he was warned that he would be kidnapped from the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul if he did not agree, Saudi officials said on Sunday providing more details about the sensational murder.
According to news agency Reuters, a 15-member team of Saudi operatives was preseent in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul Consulate when Jamal Khashoggi entered to clear his divorce papers so that he could marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national.
Things went wrong from the start as the team overstepped their orders and quickly employed violence. Khashoggi was ushered into the consul general’s office where an operative named Maher Mutreb spoke to him about returning to Saudi Arabia, according to the Saudi government’s account shared to Reuters by unnamed official..
"Khashoggi refused and told Mutreb that someone was waiting outside for him and would contact the Turkish authorities if he did not reappear within an hour", the official said.
Hatice Cengiz, has told Reuters he had handed her his two mobile phones and left instructions that she should wait for him and call an aide to Turkey’s president if he did not reappear.
Back inside the consul’s office, according to the official’s account, Khashoggi told Mutreb he was violating diplomatic norms and said, “What are you going to do with me? Do you intend to kidnap me?”
Mutreb replied, “Yes, we will drug you and kidnap you,” in what the official said was an attempt at intimidation that violated the mission’s objective.
When Khashoggi raised his voice, the team panicked. They moved to restrain him, placing him in a chokehold and covering his mouth, according to the government’s account.
“They tried to prevent him from shouting but he died,” the official said. “The intention was not to kill him.”
Asked if the team had smothered Khashoggi, the official said: “If you put someone of Jamal’s age in this position, he would probably die.”
Meanwhile, operative Mustafa Madani donned Khashoggi’s clothes, eyeglasses and Apple watch and left through the back door of the consulate in an attempt to make it look like Khashoggi had walked out of the building. Madani went to the Sultanahmet district where he disposed of the belongings.
The official said the team then wrote a false report for superiors saying they had allowed Khashoggi to leave once he warned that Turkish authorities could get involved and that they had promptly left the country before they could be discovered.
According to what Reuters has reported, the Saudi government wanted to convince Khashoggi, who moved to Washington a year ago fearing reprisals for his views, to return to the Kingdom as part of a campaign to prevent Saudi dissidents from being recruited by the country’s enemies, the official said.
To that end, the official said, the deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency, Ahmed al-Asiri, put together a 15-member team from the intelligence and security forces to go to Istanbul, meet Khashoggi at the consulate and try to convince him to return to Saudi Arabia.
“There is a standing order to negotiate the return of dissidents peacefully; which gives them the authority to act without going back to the leadership” the official said.
Regarding the dead body, the Saudi official said, it was rolled up in a rug and was handed over to a “local cooperator” for disposal.
Turkish officials had earlier told Reuters that Khashoggi’s killers may have dumped his remains in Belgrad Forest adjacent to Istanbul, and at a rural location near the city of Yalova, 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Istanbul.
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