French police arrest one suspect in Jamal Khashoggi's murder case: What we know of the 2018 killing of the journalist

On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia's government, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul never to return, prompting outrage across the world

FP Staff December 08, 2021 11:28:25 IST
French police arrest one suspect in Jamal Khashoggi's murder case: What we know of the 2018 killing of the journalist

File photo of Turkish writer Hatice Cengiz. fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, poses next to a portrait of Khashoggi after unveiling it on the National Mall in Washington, DC, during a memorial ceremony marking the third anniversary of his murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. AFP

On Tuesday, the French police arrested a Saudi man for his alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

According to reported information, Khaled Aedh Alotaibi was taken into custody at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport as he was about to board a plane to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

A Saudi official later said the arrest was a case of mistaken identity, and that those involved in the murder had been convicted in Saudi Arabia.

We try to decipher the events that led to Tuesday’s events.

Who was Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi, born in Saudi Arabia’s Medina in 1958, was a prominent journalist, covering major stories, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

He was considered close to the Saudi Royal family and also served as an adviser to the government.

In 2017, he went into self-imposed exile in the US, saying he had been ordered to “shut up”.

There, he began writing a monthly column for the Washington Post in which he often criticised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's policies.

In fact, in one of his earlier pieces for the Post, taking on MBS, he had written: “Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable.”

In September 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a Saudi document stating that he was divorced, so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

However, he was told he would have to return to pick up the document and returned on 2 October.

On 2 October, Cengiz reportedly waited for Khashoggi outside of the consulate, but he never stepped out of the building again.

Writing for the Post, recounting the incident, Cengiz had written, "He did not believe that something bad could happen on Turkish soil."

She waited outside for him for more than 10 hours and returned the following morning, but there were no signs of Khashoggi.

What happened next?

Saudi officials claim Khashoggi left the consulate, but didn't provide any definitive proof. For weeks they denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

Prince Mohammed was quoted as telling Bloomberg that the journalist had left the consulate "after a few minutes or one hour". "We have nothing to hide," he added.

However, things took a turn on 20 October, when the Saudi government announced that an investigation revealed that the journalist had died during a 'fight' after resisting attempts to return him to Saudi Arabia.

It was now that various statements kept emerging from the Middle East kingdom, making people all over the world sit up and take notice. After initally saying it was a fight, then it was announced that the death was 'premeditated'.

On 15 November, investigators concluded that Khashoggi was forcibly restrained after a struggle and injected with a large amount of a drug, resulting in an overdose that led to his death. His body was then dismembered and handed over to a local "collaborator" outside the consulate for disposal, he added.

Saudi authorities have since charged 11 unnamed suspects over Khashoggi’s murder, including five who face the death penalty on charges of “ordering and committing the crime”.

Gruesome details of Khashoggi’s murder

It was later that Turkish media reported on what happened to Khashoggi inside the consulate.

Based on intelligence recordings, Khashoggi’s killers discussed how to dismember and transport a body.

Minutes before he entered the building, one of the members of the hit team asked if the “sacrificial animal” had arrived.

The probe revealed that Maher Abdelaziz Mutreb, a senior intelligence officer and MBS’s bodyguard, told Khashoggi he would be taken back to Riyadh and ordered him to leave a message for his son, telling him not to worry if he could not reach the journalist.

When Khashoggi refused, he was drugged. His last words before losing consciousness were: “I have asthma. Do not do it, you will suffocate me.”

Three years have passed, but his body hasn't been found. While some media outlets reported that the journalist's body was melted in acid after dismembering it, others claimed that his body was taken to Saudi Arabia and was buried at a certain place or destroyed by burning it.

Demanding his body, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said on 26 October 2018, "It is obvious that he [Khashoggi] was killed but where, you have to show the body."

How did the world react?

The 59-year-old journalist's killing provoked widespread revulsion, with human rights groups and press freedom advocates calling for MBS and the Saudi government to be held accountable.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it a “savage” and “political murder."

Then US president Donald Trump called the murder “terrible”.

Germany, Denmark and Finland banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

With inputs from agencies

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