Monday, 15 Jul 2024

Saudis Sent Experts to Remove Evidence of Khashoggi’s Killing, Turkey Says

ISTANBUL — More than a week after Saudi agents killed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia sent an expert team to clean up evidence of the crime, under the guise of helping with the investigation, a senior Turkish official said on Monday — the latest twist in a case that has caused an international uproar.

A pro-government newspaper, Sabah, published news of the Saudi cleanup team and photographs of two of its members, whom it identified as a chemist and a toxicologist, who visited the Saudi consulate where Mr. Khashoggi was killed.

The senior Turkish official confirmed the main details of the report and said the Saudi team was sent with the knowledge of top Saudi officials. The two men traveled to Turkey for the sole purpose of covering up evidence of the killing before the Turkish police were allowed to search the premises, the official said in comments relayed by electronic message.

The two men were identified as Ahmad Abdulaziz al-Jonabi, a chemist, and Khaled Yahya al-Zahrani, a toxicologist, part of a team of Saudi investigators who spent several days in Turkey visiting the consulate and the consul’s residence, ostensibly to help with the investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, the newspaper reported.

The Turkish official confirmed the names of the two individuals and said that they were part of a cleanup team. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, according to the rules of his office.

The cleanup team arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 11, nine days after Mr. Khashoggi’s death, and visited the consulate every day from Oct. 12 to Oct. 17, according to Sabah. Turkish investigators were not allowed into the consulate, which is considered Saudi sovereign territory, until Oct. 15. Sabah published photographs of Mr. Jonabi and Mr. Zahrani emerging from the entrance of the consulate and also published photographs that the newspaper’s investigative editor, Abdurrahman Simsek, said were head shots from cameras at airport passport control.

The men arrived on the same day as a Saudi delegation that met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 11, as Turkish officials demanded to know what had happened to Mr. Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government who lived in the United States and wrote opinion articles for The Washington Post. He had entered the consulate on Oct. 2 for a prearranged meeting to collect papers that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancé, and was never seen again.

When the group identified as a cleanup team was in Turkey, Saudi officials were still insisting that Mr. Khashoggi, 59, had left the consulate safely, and that they did not know where he was. They later acknowledged that he had been killed in the consulate, at first describing his death as the accidental result of a fight, and later calling it premeditated.

Turkey has identified a team of 15 Saudi officials that it has accused of being the perpetrators of the murder, who arrived in Turkey in the hours before Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and left the same day. Some of the 15 turned out to be security officers close to the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and included a top forensic specialist.

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