Turkish press reveals transcript of slain Saudi journalist Khashoggi’s last moments

A Turkish newspaper has released a transcript of recordings taken during the Oct. 2, 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The transcripts released by pro-government daily Sabah this week appear to show Saudi operatives discussing how to dispose of the dissident journalist’s body minutes before he arrived at the consulate.

Washington Post journalist Khashoggi went missing after entering the consulate on the day he was killed to obtain a legal document so he could marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

As a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Khashoggi had reportedly sought assurances of his safety before visiting the consulate the first time on Sept. 28, 2018.

But Sabah said recordings taken from the office of the Consul General, Mohamed al-Otaibi, included phone conversations with Salman’s close aide Sau al-Qahtani in which they discuss a “private matter” after the journalist’s first visit.

The "head of state security called me. They have a mission. They want one of your officials from your delegation to deal with a private matter. They want someone from your protocol … for a private, top-secret mission,” Sabah’s English-language outlet Daily Sabah quoted Qahtani as saying.

A recording Sabah obtained from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) has Saudi intelligence officer Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb and Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, the forensics head at the Saudi General Security Department, discussing how to remove Khashoggi’s body.

The recording was taken 12 minutes before Khashoggi arrived on October 2, Sabah said.

“I know how to cut very well. I have never worked on a warm body though, but I'll also manage that easily,” Daily Sabah quoted Tubaigy as saying on the transcript.

“I normally put on my earphones and listen to music when I cut cadavers. In the meantime, I sip on my coffee and smoke. After I dismember it, you will wrap the parts into plastic bags, put them in suitcases and take them out (of the building),” he said.

Khashoggi arrived at the consulate and became suspicious when he was asked to enter the consul’s office on the second floor, Daily Sabah said.

At that point, Mutreb told the journalist that the Saudi officers had come to take him back to Saudi Arabia on an Interpol order, the report said.

“Help us so we can help you, because in the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don't help us you know what will happen eventually,” Mutreb said on the transcript.

The dialogue on the recording suggests that Khashoggi was drugged before being suffocated by the hit squad.

"I have asthma. Do not do it, you will suffocate me,” were Khashoggi’s final words on the transcript.

The remainder of the recording includes the sounds of an autopsy saw said to have been used to dismember Khashoggi’s body.

The journalist’s body was removed from the consulate in five suitcases, and its whereabouts remain unknown, a book on the case by Sabah journalists Abdurrahman Şimşek, Nazif Karaman and Ferhat Ünlü said.

Sabah and other Turkish media outlets began to release details linked to Khashoggi’s killing shortly after the journalist disappeared.

Saudi officials at first denied that the journalist had been killed in the consulate, before saying he had been killed accidentally in a fistfight.

The issue provoked international outrage over months, as the Turkish outlets gradually released more evidence of the killing, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan kept on the international agenda in a series of speeches.

Turkish press reports said the killing had been carried out by a 15-member team sent from Saudi Arabia, which included seven of Prince Salman’s personal bodyguards.

In June, a 100-page UN Special Report said Khashoggi’s murder was an “international crime”, calling it “an arbitrary and extrajudicial execution for which the State of Saudi Arabia is responsible”

The report said the responsibility for the killings lies with high-level officials, citing what it said was credible evidence linking Prince Salman to the murder, and demanded an international follow-up investigation of the murder.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump’s show of support for Prince Salman last year after details of the murder were revealed was seen as a sign that the Saudi ruler had escaped any serious consequences for the slaying.

Instead, Saudi authorities have reportedly begun the trial of 11 people for the killing, seeking the death penalty for five of them, including Mutreb and Tubaigy.

Mutreb died in a car accident weeks after the killing took place last October.

The Khashoggi killing played out last year amid an intense regional rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Ankara supports the political Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which Riyadh counts as a terrorist organisation, and the two states have been on opposite sides in conflicts around the Middle East and North Africa.

This year, Saudi authorities have issued embargoes on Turkish trucks on their country’s border and warned citizens against travelling to Turkey.