Saudi hit-squad 'visited potential burial sites' before Khashoggi murder
The 18 suspects identified by Saudi Arabia as involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi should be tried in Turkey where the killing took place, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in a much anticipated speech from Ankara on Tuesday.
The hit squad, which landed in Istanbul in groups, conducted reconnaissance missions in the lead up to the murder to scout for possible burial sites, Erdogan confirmed, noting the killing of Khashoggi was "planned" days in advance.
Staff members working inside the consulate at the time were gathered in one room while others were given leave, the Turkish leader said, according to an investigation by authorities.
Erdogan questioned the viability of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations covering the Saudi consulate, warning the crime "cannot be concealed by immunity".
It should not be forgotten that the crime took place "within Turkish borders," he warned, suggesting his country has been placed in a position of responsibility to reveal the truth.
"Evidence shows Khashoggi was a victim of a gruesome murder and covering up such atrocity will harm the consciousness of all humanity," he said.
"Everyone involved in this murder, form juniors to seniors, from bottom to the top, must be brought to justice."
In a speech in Ankara to ruling party lawmakers, Erdogan also called for an independent commission to be set up into the murder, but added he was confident of the full cooperation of Saudi King Salman.
However, Erdogan said the surveillance system at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was deactivated on purpose ahead of the murder of Khashoggi.
"First they (the Saudis implicated) remove the hard disc from the camera system," Erdogan said. "This is a political murder," he added.
Erdogan had previously promised to reveal the "naked truth" of the case, however his speech fell short of exposing how Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, which media sites have speculated in grim detail, reporting authorities were in possession of audio tapes and footage.
He also failed to mention Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, widely believed to have ordered the assassination.
Asking Saudi authorities to reveal who instructed the murder, Erdogan demanded to know the identity of a local collaborator believed to have disposed of Khashoggi's body.
The damning statements debunks Riyadh's official yet ever-changing narrative on the killing, which it said accidentally took place after a fist fight broke out inside the consulate between the journalist and the group, whom Saudi authorities branded as "rogue" Saudi nationals.
The admission followed two weeks of denial, in which Saudi Arabia initially claimed Khashoggi had left the consulate alive.
Khashoggi had originally gone to the consulate to pick up a document he needed for his forthcoming marriage to Turkish citizen Hadice Cengiz. Erdogan said he was deliberately lured there as part of the premeditated murder.
Several US officials told Reuters on Monday they had confidence the Saudi crown prince, also the country's de facto ruler, had ordered the journalist's abduction, as he is the overseer of the Saudi security apparatus. However the officials said they lacked definite proof.