Jamal Khashoggi’s widow filed a lawsuit against the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and other foreign officials this week, alleging the Washington Post columnist’s brutal slaying in 2018 was the “culmination of weeks of planning and conspiratorial actions.”
On October 2, 2018, a group of Saudi Arabian operatives murdered the 59-year-old journalist and activist in Istanbul, where he was obtaining documents for his upcoming wedding to Hatice Cengiz. Inside the consulate, authorities say Khashoggi was drugged and killed, a crime the CIA concluded was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was then dismembered, and his body has never been found.
“The ruthless torture and murder of Mr. Khashoggi shocked the conscience of people throughout the world,” the lawsuit states, adding that Saudi leaders viewed “Khashoggi’s actions in the United States as an existential threat to their pecuniary and other interests.”
MBS has denied involvement in the murder, but Cengiz’s civil lawsuit directly accuses the crown prince and other Saudi officials of orchestrating Khashoggi’s assassination over several months to silence the activist, who was advocating for democratic reform in the country.
“Specifically, as part of the conspiracy to kill Mr. Khashoggi, Saudi Embassy officials informed Mr. Khashoggi that the documents were not available at the Embassy in Washington. The Embassy officials further informed Mr. Khashoggi that he would have to obtain these essential documents in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey,” the lawsuit states. “Thus, while Mr. Khashoggi was in the United States, members of the Saudi Embassy, who were also in the United States, lured Mr. Khashoggi to the Saudi Consulate in Turkey under a ruse that Turkey was the sole place he could obtain the documents he sought.”
Cengiz filed the lawsuit with Khashoggi’s employer, Democracy for the Arab World Now, in Washington, D.C., because it is “sole venue where such accountability and redress can effectively be obtained.” In September, eight Saudi nationals—including several who worked for the crown prince—were convicted in Khashoggi’s slaying, but many criticized the lack of transparency in the process and their short prison sentences.
The lawsuit alleges that after hacking the phones of Khashoggi’s associates, the crown prince and others learned of the journalist’s plans to promote democratic reform and human rights through DAWN, a nonprofit organization where he served as executive director.
In August 2018, the group saw an “opportunity to murder” Khashoggi when he contacted the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, D.C., to obtain a certificate of marriage eligibility. At the embassy, Kashoggi was told he would have to apply for the document at the consulate in Istanbul but that was merely a “ruse to lure” the journalist to a location where “defendants could carry out an operation to kidnap, torture and murder him.”
The lawsuit states that Khashoggi, who was well aware of the potential dangers of his work, contacted Khalid bin Salman, then the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, and the crown prince’s brother for “assurances that it would be safe for him to visit the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.” Khalid bin Salman insisted the journalist go to Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave his friend assurances it would be safe “at the direction of his brother,” the lawsuit alleges.
In September 2018, Cengiz and Khashoggi were married in a private Islamic ceremony but still needed a certificate of eligibility from the groom’s home country—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—since he was a foreign national.
Hoping to speed up the marriage process, the couple went to Istanbul on Sept. 28 to obtain the document—an unannounced visit that surprised consulate employees. At the end of the meeting, Khashoggi was informed that the certificate would be ready on Oct. 2, a date that was communicated to Saudi officials in Riyadh, according to the lawsuit.
Over those next few days, several Saudi officials named in the lawsuit allegedly planned to carry out the secret “security-related” assignment and scouted a “suitable place to deposit” the journalist’s body.
On the day of the murder, nine Saudi officials arrived in Istanbul “to carry out the abduction, torture, and killing of Mr. Khashoggi,” including a forensic doctor who was responsible for “dismembering and disposing” of his body, according to the lawsuit. Another official named in the court documents was brought along to serve as a “body double” for Khashoggi.
Khashoggi and Cengiz arrived at the consulate around 1 p.m. on Oct. 2, and the journalist went inside the building alone, leaving his phone with his wife for safekeeping.
“Cengiz accompanied Mr. Khashoggi to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as he sought the documents needed,” the lawsuit states. “She waited deep into the night outside the Consulate, but he was never seen again.”
In one recording by Turkish Intelligence, an official can be heard demanding Khashoggi send a message to his son, to which the journalist responds, “What should I say? See you soon? I can’t say kidnapping.”
“At that point, Mr. Khashoggi responded with incredulity, ‘How could this happen in an embassy?’” the lawsuit states. “Following this exchange, a struggle began and quickly intensified. Mr. Khashoggi attempted to flee the group and was seized upon and, after torturing him, Defendants present murdered Mr. Khashoggi.”
The crime, the lawsuit says, affected Cengiz both emotionally—as she has “suffered loss of love, companionship, moral support and affection that she previously enjoyed”—and financially. Cengiz is now seeking compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at a trial.
The Trump administration, which has had a close relationship with the crown prince, has continued to defend MBS. Less than a week after Khashoggi’s murder, President Donald Trump announced that sanctioning Saudi weapons purchases from the U.S. would amount to a self-inflicted economic wound. In November 2018, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, but Trump continued to stand by the Saudi Arabian leader.
In an interview with journalist Bob Woodward released last month, Trump boasted he “saved” MBS in the wake of Khashoggi’s killing, stating, “I saved his ass. I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.” Later in the interview, which was included in Woodward’s book Rage, Trump added that he’s “happy” MBS will “always say he didn’t do it.”