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Opinion: The Death of Jamal Khashoggi

Over the past few weeks, there has been speculation surrounding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. Mr Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi Arabian journalist and critic of the Saudi government. He was last seen walking into the country's consulate in Istanbul and disappeared. The most recent update, breaking news from the BBC on Friday 19th October 2018 at approximately 23:20pm, suggests that Mr Khashoggi 'died after a fight' in the Saudi Arabian consulate. This news was following an initial probe and was released by Saudi State TV. This is the first time that Saudi Arabia have acknowledged Mr Khashoggi's death. The news has also prompted the dismissal of five top Saudi officials. Early indications suggest that some eighteen Saudis have been arrested in connection with the disappearance and consequent death of Mr Khashoggi.

Mr Khashoggi was visiting the consulate in order to obtain official documents that would verify that he had divorced his ex-wife. This would have allowed Mr Khashoggi to proceed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. Ms Cengiz is reported to have waited outside the consulate for ten hours before returning the following morning, during which time Mr Khashoggi failed to make an appearance. This generated alarm.

The disappearance of Mr Khashoggi has generated further tension between the countries of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The two countries have had a somewhat strained relationship over the past decade. The complex political relationship between the two makes the story even more difficult to follow. This creates a further problem - the evidence being put into the public sphere is difficult to piece together in a coherent manner. It is entirely plausible that those close to the Crown Prince will simply jump on the bandwagon in an attempt to undermine him. Due to this, one should exercise caution when weighing up the competing evidence.

Members of the Turkish government believe that Mr Khashoggi was murdered by a team of Saudi agents following his torture. There is an allegation that the team is made up of fifteen agents, many of whom have personal connections to the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) or Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry. The Turkish ministers purport to have evidence that support their theory. A Turkish newspaper, named Yeni Safak, has published details of audio recordings, which it says prove that Mr Khashoggi was tortured before he died. There are of course, question marks over the validity of these recordings - they have not been made available to the public. However, the evidence regarding the identities of the fifteen agents appears to be accurate. This allegation appears to be supported by open source information that is freely available over the Internet. As a result of this, one can go some length in agreeing that the Turkish authorities have a valid theory. This is further compounded when one considers the comments that have been made regarding the thoroughness and professionalism of the Turkish intelligence services.

On the other side of the allegation, Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied the claim. The Saudis initially insisted that Mr Khashoggi had left the consulate shortly after he arrived. During that time, they have been somewhat distanced from the events that have followed on. The Crown Prince's brother, Prince Khaled bin Salman responded to the accusations by labelling them "completely false and baseless". As the allegations continue, the denials from Saudi Arabia became more forceful. The foreign ministry posted a series of tweets. These tweets, however, were later deleted. They rejected the accusations as "attempts to undermine" the country. Despite this, diplomatic pressure has been growing on the Saudis to give a fuller explanation. Saudi Arabia have been reported as being open to co-operation in the ongoing investigation that is taking place in Turkey. Whether they will be forthcoming in the future is purely hypothetical at this moment.

There have been strong allegations from third parties that, following the revelation of certain pieces of evidence, the Crown Prince had ordered the killing of Mr Khashoggi. The main content of this accusation has stemmed from Sir John Sawers, former head of MI6. Mr Sawers told the BBC that the conclusion he had reached was based on conversations with senior Whitehall sources and his personal knowledge of the Turkish intelligence services. Should Saudi Arabia be found guilty of this act, it is likely to cause significant damage to the relationship it has with the UK. Both Liam Fox and Jeremy Hunt have weighed in on the matter. There have been other countries, such as France, the Netherlands and Germany who have all suspended any political visits to Saudi Arabia as a result of the incident. There also appears to be a further twist to these allegations. Mr Sawers has hinted that the Crown Prince would only have acted if he believed he had licence from the White House to behave as he wished. Mr Trump, President of the United States, has allegedly communicated with King Salman, who denied any knowledge or involvement in Mr Khashoggi's disappearance and death: "It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers". This statement was given without any evidence to back the comment. It is a blanket statement which seems highly suspicious given the gravity of the situation. One could argue that the US is further losing credibility by peddling such a story. This, if proven to be true, could possibly be the most controversial incident during Mr Trump's tenure as President of the United States.

In direct contradiction to the above, there has also been speculation from Donald Trump that Saudi Arabia had committed the murder of Khashoggi. Mr Trump was quoted as stating that the consequences for Saudi would be “very severe” if its leaders were found to have ordered the dissident journalist’s killing. Alarmingly, President Trump has started to take a back seat to the events that have unfolded over the past few weeks. Whether this is an attempt to shift any suspicions is yet to be seen, however, when noting the above, it is clear that something is not consistent in the President's account. Logically, there would be no need to backtrack on such statements or to distance oneself unless there was something that needed to be covered up.

The details of how exactly Mr Khashoggi died and who is responsible for his death are unclear at the moment. It would appear that the strongest allegation is against the state of Saudi Arabia itself. It is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will make any form of formal response to the Turkish government within the next week. Worryingly, there are strong suggestions that the United States may potentially be involved in the matter. The political fallout from this development is unpredictable. This incident does pose the risk of more international bodies becoming involved (such as the EU). As a result, there may be some form of sanction placed on Saudi Arabia at the very least.

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