Explainer: What you should know about the Khashoggi incident

October 19, 2018

What just happened?

Last week, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist living in self-exile in the U.S., disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Evidence suggests he may have been brutally murdered by Saudi operatives at the behest of Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who also serves as the country's Deputy Prime Minister.

What is the importance of this incident?

In a radio interview Vice President Mike Pence explained the significance of this international incident.

"If true [that Khashoggi was murdered], this is a tragic day," said Pence. “Violence against journalists across the globe is a threat to freedom of the press and human rights. The free world deserves answers.”

"Any attack against an innocent individual should be offensive to any American," he added. "But an attack on a journalist is an offense to a free and independent press."

Who is Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi journalist who most recently wrote for The Washington Post's global opinion section. Khashoggi had previously been considered one of the leading journalists in Saudi Arabia. He worked for the country’s top news outlets and, for a time, even served as an adviser to senior officials in the Saudi government

In 2017, he wrote a story criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (The crown prince is the second most important person in Saudi Arabia, and the designated successor to the king.)  According to a U.S. State Department report on human rights, in 2016 Saudi authorities purportedly banned Khashoggi from “writing, appearing on television, and attending conferences as the result of remarks he made that were interpreted as criticizing the president of the United States.”

Khashoggi said he moved to the United States “for my safety . . . I was under the risk of either being banned from travel, which would be suffocating, or being physically arrested, just like many of my colleagues.”

Why was Khashoggi in Turkey?

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, is a Turkish citizen. While in the country for their wedding, he went to the Saudi consulate to get a document certifying his divorce from a previous marriage. He went to the consulate in late September but was told to come back on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 2.

Before entering the consulate on the afternoon of October 2, Khashoggi gave his two cellphones to Cengiz and told her to get help if he did not reappear. He was seen on camera entering the building, but there is no evidence he left alive. He was scheduled to marry Cengiz the next day.

What happened to Khashoggi?

The Turkish news organization Sabah reports that a team of 15 Saudi officials and intelligence officers flew to Istanbul on a private jet early on the morning of October 2.

Turkish authorities say they have an audio recording that proves that soon after being shown into the office of the Saudi consul, Khashoggi was seized by the Saudi agents. They immediately began to beat, drug, and torture him. According to the recording, they also dismembered his body.

The New York Times has confirmed that at least nine of the agents worked for the Saudi government, military, or security services. One of the suspects was a frequent companion of Prince Mohammed, and three others are linked to the crown prince’s security detail.

A Turkish newspaper also reports that one of the 15 suspects was mysteriously killed in a car crash after returning to the Saudi capital city of Riyadh.

Is the Saudi government responsible for the alleged murder?

The Saudi government has so far denied any involvement, and Prince Mohammed made the denial directly to the U.S. president.

“The king firmly denied any knowledge of it,” President Trump told reporters on Monday. Trump said he didn’t “want to get into (the prince’s) mind,” but he added, “it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. I mean, who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.”

The Times reports, though, that American intelligence officials are increasingly convinced that Prince Mohammed is culpable in the killing, noting, “Officials have also said the prince’s complete control over the security services makes it highly unlikely that an operation would have been undertaken without his knowledge.”

How has the United States and the international community responded?

The U.S. State Department has urged a thorough investigation into the alleged killing, and earlier this week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Saudi Arabia to get more clarity from the country’s leaders. On Thursday, Secretary Pompeo told President Trump the U.S. should await the results of a Saudi investigation before responding to the incident.

“I do think it’s important that everyone keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships—financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationships, things we work on together all across the world,” said Pompeo.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted on Thursday that he will “not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia.” The event is listed as being “hosted under the leadership” of Prince Mohammed.

Over the weekend Germany, Britain, and France issued a joint statement expressing “grave concern” and calling for a credible investigation to ensure those responsible for the disappearance “are held to account.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter has an MBA from Marymount University and is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus. He and his wife, Misty, have one daughter. Read More