President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday promised to lay bare the “naked truth” behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a speech on Tuesday. In the end, it was what he didn't say that threatens to shake up diplomatic relations in the region.
The Turkish president didn't produce any unexpected evidence. The alleged tape of the “savage murder” wasn't played, there was no video of the hitmen carrying the writer's body, and there were few revelations that hadn't already been leaked to the press by unnamed Turkish officials.
Instead, the Erdogan used the speech to place the pressure on Saudi Arabia to tell the world what it knows of the killing. He dropped heavy hints that the “political killing” had been meticulously planned at a high level. Although he praised the integrity of Saudi King Salman, one name was notable by its absence, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is effectively the true ruler of the Kingdom.
“I do not doubt the sincerity of King Salman,” said the Turkish president, praising the king for his commitment to carrying out an investigation, but offering no such warm words for the Crown Prince. He went on: “Independent investigation needs to be carried out; this is a political killing.”
Reports have increasingly linked the Crown Prince to the brutal killing—one of his entourage is known to have been at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on the day of the murder—and there's no doubt he wanted Khashoggi to be eliminated.
Erdogan challenged the Saudis with a series of questions. He wants to know who ordered the killing, why so many different official statements were given by the Saudis, and where the undiscovered body was disposed.
Clearly not expecting those answers to be forthcoming from the Saudi Arabian establishment, he also demanded that those responsible for the killing be tried by Turkish authorities and not be protected by diplomatic immunity because the murder took place inside a Saudi consulate.
“My demand is that 18 people be tried in Istanbul,” he told his members of parliament, adding “all those who played a role in the murder” would be punished from the ones who ordered it to lowly accomplices.
The rest of his statement mirrored the leaks that have come out of his government and authorities over the past few weeks. He confirmed that, as previously reported, Turkey believes that a Saudi official body double dressed in Khashoggi's clothes and used as a decoy on the day of the murder.
Erdogan said Saudi officials started planning the murder days before his death in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate, with one of three Saudi teams scouting out a forest before the killing. He also described how the teams—made up of 18 Saudis—removed the security cameras and surveillance footage from the consulate building prior to Khashoggi's arrival.
But it is not these details which will shake the diplomatic community. It is the Turkish president confirming that his country believes a pre-meditated political assassination was carried out in Istanbul—and that he's leaving open the possibility that it was ordered by the Saudi royals.
“Intelligence and security institutions have evidence showing the murder was planned,” he said. “Pinning such a case on some security and intelligence members will not satisfy us or the international community.”
Erdogan's statement was billed as the reveal of the complete truth behind Khashoggi's killing. In reality, it left the distinct impression that he's only started to scratch the surface.