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Erdogan ally tells Turkish parliament Saudi crown prince behind Khashoggi murder

Devlet Bahceli compares Saudi government to Osama bin Laden, and accuses Trump over covering for Mohammed bin Salman
Bahceli also turned on Trump, who he accused of trying to protect bin Salman (AFP)

Devlet Bahceli, leader of Turkey's nationalist party and ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, delivered the most overt accusation that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind Jamal Khashoggi's murder on Tuesday, in a speech to parliament.

"The circle is closing in for the crown prince, the paths of escape and salvation are closing," Bahceli told MPs.

"I ask you, what difference remains between Saudi Arabia's administration and the mentality of Osama bin Laden? What separates this country from al-Qaeda?"

Bahceli's speech is the most ferocious attack on the Saudi crown prince and leadership issued by Turkish authorities since Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Erdogan has previously said that the "highest levels" of the Saudi leadership were behind the prominent journalist's murder. US media have meanwhile reported that the CIA believes only the crown prince could have signed off on such an operation.

I ask you, what difference remains between Saudi Arabia's administration and the mentality of Osama bin Laden? What separates this country from al-Qaeda

- Devlet Bahceli, Turkish nationalist leader

However in an interview with Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Turkish officials had assured him that Erdogan was not implying that Mohammed bin Salman was responsible.

"We have already asked the Turkish authorities at the highest level about the meaning of these comments, and they confirmed to us categorically that the crown prince is not meant by these comments," Jubeir said.

Bahceli's comments appear to contradict that sentiment however, and the MHP leader blasted Jubeir for rejecting an international investigation.

"Their minister said taking the issue to the international court is unacceptable. He also said that this issue has been used to divide the Muslims. In our opinion that is a screwed-up thing to say," Bahceli said.

"Saudi Arabia is not aware of the fact that they are playing ball in a minefield. They are making one mistake after another. It is very well known who these killers are and who ordered them to commit this murder."

The Turkish nationalist also turned on US President Donald Trump, who he accused of trying to protect Mohammed bin Salman.

"The US has chosen the path of protecting the crown prince. Trump prefers not to hear that the crown prince is behind [the murder], although it is widely reported," Bahceli said.

On Monday, a senior Saudi source told Middle East Eye that the Saudi leadership was shielding itself from the Khashoggi scandal by following a plan laid out for it by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The US State Department denied the allegations.

'There was no bugging'

Muddying the waters, however, was Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar's denial on Monday that the Turkish authorities had bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Soon after Khashoggi went missing inside the consulate, Turkish sources began relaying gruesome details of the Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist's murder to the international press, apparently taken from audio recordings made within the building.

Speaking to the BBC, however, Akar denied Turkey had the consulate under surveillance, though offered no alternative explanation for the audio's existence.

“There was no surveillance within the consulate [and] we will not reveal the source of the recordings,” Akar told the BBC. 

The Saudi consulate in Istanbul. (Reuters)

When pushed over whether bugging consulates was a common practice for Turkey, Akar laughed off claims that Ankara had bugged the consulate and said: "There was no bugging."

He added that Turkey would not be making the recordings public but stressed that the decision would "depend on the situation" and was at the "control of the public prosecution office".

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The recordings - the existence of which was long an open secret and was officially acknowledged by Erodgan on 1 November -  revealed that Khashoggi was a victim of premeditated murder, and was set upon, killed and dismembered soon after entering his country's consulate.

Akar's statement contradicts information given to MEE by a number of high-level Turkish sources.

MEE understands that Turkish authorities had, in fact, bugged the consul general's office after dispensing with surveillance devices elsewhere in the building due to the lack of sensitive information being shared there.

Last week, MEE reported that Turkish authorities have a full record of communications in and out of the Saudi consulate in the week around Khashoggi's death, and intend to release information gleaned from them and continue piling pressure on the Saudi leadership.