The top line out of the new United Nations report released Wednesday on the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is that there is “credible evidence” that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and other high-level officials are personally liable for the grisly murder.
But the 101-page report also shows that while Khashoggi was certainly a wanted man, the kingdom may not have conspired to kill him as a first choice but rather did so as a Plan B, according to the findings by Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard. Instead, they hoped to take him back to the kingdom to face Mohammed bin Salman personally. When it seemed clear he would not cooperate, they killed him.
Saudi Arabia has 11 yet-unidentified people on trial for the murder and is seeking the death penalty for five of them. But Callamard says the trial is a farce and fails to meet international standards. She calls for it to be suspended and for an independent investigative team to look into the kingdom’s involvement instead. Khashoggi’s body has never been found.
“Nothing new,” Adel al-Jubeir, the minister of foreign affairs of Saudi Arabia tweeted in response to the report. “The report of the rapporteur in the human rights council contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations which challenge its credibility.”
Yet Callamard reveals never-before-known information about Khashoggi’s final moments—and WARRANTS A WARNING ABOUT THE EXTREMELY GRAPHIC DETAILS FOR READERS ABOUT WHAT IT CONTAINS.
Here, some of the U.N. report’s most important findings:
Khashoggi Wasn’t Destined to Die in Turkey
Callamard writes that the interception and murder of Khashoggi was the result of an “elaborate mission involving extensive coordination and resources,” but that it was not necessarily meant to happen in Turkey. Khashoggi was under surveillance in Canada and was sought by the Saudi authorities. “When the opportunity arose, an operation was launched in Riyadh, managed at high levels of the Saudi government,” she writes. “The operation involved multiple flights, including two private jets, one under diplomatic clearance. It entailed training, with two Saudi attachés from Istanbul flying to Riyadh for ‘top secret,’ ‘urgent’ training and preparation, and it required planning and execution in Istanbul.”
Callamard also points to what she calls “deceptive countermeasures” that include the booking of tickets for the killing squad’s families and the use of a tour company to book hotel rooms with sea views, which would imply they were there for leisure. “The fact that a team was put together and operational within 48 hours tends to point to a ‘Special Operation’ scenario, with core team members already appointed and in place, ready to act whenever the order comes. Such a level of preparation is unlikely to have occurred otherwise.”
Plans for His Assassination Began the Minute He Asked the Consulate for a Marriage Certificate
Khashoggi and his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, tried to avoid all contact with Saudi officials, but could not be legally married in Turkey without an official document from the kingdom. Khashoggi and Cengiz first tried to obtain the certificate at the Saudi consulate in Washington, D.C., but were told it must be done in the country where he would marry. The journalist was so concerned about his safety, he and Cengiz showed up unannounced at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in September 2018. They were told to come back on Oct. 2, 2018.
The special rapporteur says that immediately after he left the consulate, cables were sent to Riyadh and plans were put in place for the Oct. 2 visit. “According to Turkish Intelligence, even before Mr. Khashoggi’s plane took off from Istanbul at 14:40, information that he had been at the Consulate, and would return on October 2, had been relayed to Riyadh,” the report states, and then goes on to describe the plans that were captured on wiretaps referring to the crown prince wanting to put a top official on the job. “He is saying that the mission is a duty. He is asking for him for just four-five days. They will arrange everything including accommodation. Send me his number. I will send it to them an hour later. They will get in touch.”
Khashoggi Was Told There Was an Interpol Arrest Warrant on Him and He Must Return to Saudi Arabia
When Khashoggi returned on Oct. 2, he was greeted at the consulate by someone he clearly knew, according to wiretaps heard by the rapporteur, who described the initial conversation as cordial. Then he was taken to a room and told by security chief Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb he would have to go back to Saudi. “We will have to take you back. There is an order from Interpol. Interpol requested you to be sent back. We are coming to get you.” Khashoggi is heard saying, “There isn’t a case against me. I notified some people outside; they are waiting for me; a driver is waiting for me.” A short time later, Khashoggi admits there is no driver but his fiancée is waiting. The report then relays a conversation caught by Turkish surveillance.
Saudi Officials Made Khashoggi Write to His Son
According to the transcript, Mutreb asked whether Khashoggi had phones.
Khashoggi replied, “Two phones.”
“Send a message to your son,” a man is heard saying.
“Which son? What should I say to my son?” Khashoggi asks before the room goes silent.
“You will type a message—let’s rehearse; show us,” the man can be heard saying.
“What should I say? See you soon? I can’t say kidnapping.”
Then the man tells Khashoggi to “cut it short” before directing him, “Take off your jacket.”
“How could this happen in an embassy? I will not write anything,” Khashoggi pleads.
“Cut it short,” the man says again.
“I will not write anything,” he says again.
“Type it, Mr. Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so that we can help you because at the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don’t help us you know what will happen at the end; let this issue find a good end.”
A few minutes later, Khashoggi is heard saying, “There is a towel here. Are you going to give me drugs?”
“We will anesthetize you,” the man said before struggles can be heard.
The Killers Struggled to Knock Out the Journalist
The rapporteur described sounds of struggle caught on the secret Turkish surveillance tape, which she assumes is the injection of a sedative. During the scuffle, a man asks, “Did he sleep?”
Another replies, “He raises his head.”
The first man then says, “Keep pushing.”
Another replies, “Push here; don’t remove your hand; push it.”
After the injection, the report surmises that the officials then suffocated him by placing his head in a plastic bag. Others caught on the secret tape spoke of a rope, but they could not determine whether a rope was indeed used.
“Sounds of movement and heavy panting could be heard in the remainder of the recordings,” the report states. “The sound of plastic sheets (wrapping) could also be heard. Turkish Intelligence concluded that these came after Mr. Khashoggi’s death, while the Saudi officials were dismembering his body. The Turkish Intelligence assessment identified the sound of a saw at 13:39. The Special Rapporteur and her delegation could not make out the sources of the sounds they heard.”
The Killers Improvised Some of the Work
At a certain point in the surveillance tape, before Khashoggi had been brought to them, the voice of Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, the forensics doctor, can be heard preparing the other men about how to move Khashoggi’s heavy body, according to the report. As the men discuss the work at hand, including how to dismember the journalist, one mentions leather bags, another cutting through skin.
“My direct manager is not aware of what I am doing,” Tubaigy then says. “There is nobody to protect me.”
Later in the conversation, Mutreb stops and tells the others to listen, then asks if the “sacrificial lamb” has arrived at the consulate.
An unnamed voice then responds, “He has arrived.”
The Forensic Specialist Was on Tap to Remove the Evidence if Khashoggi Had to Be Killed, Not to Kill Him
The report contradicts denials by a Saudi prosecutor that no forensic specialist had been in Turkey at the time of the killing. It also contradicts initial press reports that Tubaigy was there to do the killing. Instead, the report asserts that he was there on standby in case the special team had no choice but to kill the journalist. Callamard writes that the leader of the mission “contacted a forensics expert to join the team for the purpose of removing evidence from the scene in the case force had to be used to return the victim. The forensics expert joined the team without the knowledge of his superiors.”
A Turkish Collaborator Was ‘on Call’ in Case Khashoggi Had to Be Killed
The original intent was to return Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, but a detailed contingency plan was put in place in the event he would not go willingly. “After surveying the Consulate, the head of the negotiation team concluded that it would not be possible to transfer the victim by force to the safe location in case the negotiations with him to return failed,” the report says, referring to Khashoggi. “The head of the negotiation team decided to murder the victim if the negotiations failed.”
The complex investigation by both the U.N. and Turkish officials agreed that the murder was carried out “after a physical altercation with the victim where he was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death.”
There Is No Way the Plan Was Hatched by Team Who Carried it Out
The special rapporteur concludes that due to the complexity of the murder, the number of people involved, and the disdain for Khashoggi by the kingdom, there is no way the murder was the act of those who committed it, as Saudi officials suggest by holding a secret trial.
“The presence of the pathologist on the 15-man team is relevant to determining what the original intent of the mission was by those who commissioned it,” Callamard writes. “His presence suggests one of three options: 1) that murder was the primary intent of the mission; 2) that murder was planned after several days of interrogation; or 3) that murder was the immediate second option should Mr. Khashoggi refuse to return to Saudi Arabia.”
As a result, she concludes: “It would appear improbable that any leader of a special operations team would unilaterally change the mission to murder without authorization from his superiors. A unilateral decision to kill, in defiance of orders, would seem only to put the team, and particularly the team leader at risk. It is hard to accept the theory that the 15-persons team leader planned this murder without any authorization from superiors in Riyadh.”
The Individual Team Members May Not Have Been Told They Would Have to Kill
Callamard believes that it is possible that not all of the 15 people involved in the murder were aware of the plan. “Experts consulted have suggested that special-operations team members are usually all aware of the precise roles they will play and that they usually knew the exact purpose of the mission,” she wrote. “However, it is not known whether those conventions applied here. It is the special rapporteur’s understanding that some of the individuals on trial in Saudi Arabia are disclaiming any advance knowledge that Mr. Khashoggi was to be killed.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Should Be Investigated
The U.N. rapporteur suggests on several occasions that the current trial in Saudi Arabia against 11 unidentified people should be halted and that the focus of the investigation should instead turn to top Saudi officials.
“The special rapporteur addresses the question of credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level officials currently not being criminally charged, specifically Saud Alqahtani, and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. No conclusion is made as to guilt,” she writes. “The only conclusion made is that there is credible evidence meriting further investigation, by a proper authority, as to whether the threshold of criminal responsibility has been met.”