Oct 10 2018

Missing Jamal Khashoggi no ordinary journalist - BBC Turkish

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing in Istanbul last week, may have been a victim of a power struggle in Saudi Arabia, BBC Turkish reported on Wednesday.

BBC Turkish spoke to Khashoggi’s friends in London, where he spent the weekend before he disappeared on Oct. 2 on a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to get documents for a marriage license. The journalist, who is also a contributor of the Washington Post’s Global Opinion page, arrived in London on Sept. 29 to attend a conference on Palestine.

Khashoggi has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States and Turkey, since he turned from a loyalist of the Saudi royal court into a critic after Prince Mohammed bin Salman became the crown prince in 2017.

Azzam Tamimi, a friend of Khashoggi for 25 years, told BBC Turkish the Saudi journalist was excited about his forthcoming marriage with his Turkish fiancée. 

“He was not talking about a threat, he was only excited for his marriage. They told him that his document would be available on Tuesday. Therefore he left London on Monday and went to Istanbul,” Tamimi said. 

People who talked to BBC Turkish said journalism was only one aspect of Khashoggi’s political activities and he had political influence in the country as a Saudi intellectual.

Khashoggi also comes from a well-known family and is a cousin of the late billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.

Since his young days, Jamal Khashoggi has been close to the Saudi establishment. 

“Jamal was a part of the establishment in Saudi Arabia. He also preformed duties on behalf of Saudi Arabia,” Tamimi said, adding that Khashoggi once represented the Saudi state in a meeting in Beirut with diplomats and politicians from the West. 

“He was one of the Saudi elites; political intellectuals who were educated in the West. They were an elite group who wanted reforms in Saudi Arabia, but also wanted them to happen with no regime change. Prince Salman has seen this group as a threat to himself and has been going after all of them one by one,” Tamimi said. 

Other friends, who declined to be named, told BBC Turkish that Khashoggi’s problems in Saudi Arabia began when Al Arab News television, owned by Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, was established and Khashoggi was appointed its editor-in-chief.

The television channel opened in February 2015, but remained on air for only a few hours during which time it broadcast an interview with an opposition Bahrain politician before shutting down citing technical problems

Khashoggi was then not allowed to talk in other television channels and his social media activities were monitored, due to his close relationship with Bin Talal, who was arrested in 2017 in an anti-corruption purge. Khashoggi, who tried to continue writing opinion pieces, left for the United States in 2017 after it became impossible for him to work as a journalist in his country.

Khashoggi’s friends told BBC Turkish that, if he had not gone to the United States in September 2017, he would have been among the senior politicians and businessman arrested in November 2017.

Khashoggi’s close ties to Turkey also started to attract attention in Riyadh, his friend said. 

“Khashoggi’s ancestors came to Medina from Turkey years ago. He has cultural ties to Turkey,” a friend of him said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been criticised in all media outlets in Saudi Arabia, the same friend said. “Erdoğan is not regarded as an enemy, but is criticised for not being a friend. And this is because of his links to Muslim Brotherhood.”

Khashoggi is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but someone close to their ideas, according to his friends, while Prince Salman sees the political movement as a threat for Saudi Arabia and has been trying to erase it from the country.

“I cannot say he was an official member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Maybe he was at the beginning, but he had close ties. The leaders of the movement in Egypt and Tunisia were Jamal’s friends. After the Arab spring, he wanted political Islam to come to power. But he was not an Islamist,” Ahmed Zaki, from BBC Arabic said. 

While some think that Khashoggi’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood put him on the spot, some others argue that he might have been targeted for his past intelligence activities. 

From 2003 to 2007, Khashoggi worked as a consultant for Prince Turki Al Faisal, who served as the Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to first the United Kingdom and later to the United States. 

Al Faisal was the head of Saudi intelligence between 1979 and 2001, while Afghanistan was under Soviet occupation and the opposition mujahideen in the country were supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

Khashoggi, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, interviewed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and Sudan. 

“Jamal had close ties to Al Faisal. In the 1980s, when he was in his twenties, he was sent to Afghanistan as a journalist to report on jihadis. Some Saudi sources say, after the war ended, he worked as an informant to spy on young Saudis and helped to detect those opposing the Saudi royal family,” Zaki said.

“I do not want to say he had a role in intelligence, but he had close ties to Saudi intelligence,” he said.