CNN source says it is clear killing was no botched rendition attempt, but premeditated plan to murder journalist
"I can't breathe," were the final words uttered by Jamal Khashoggi after he was set upon by a Saudi hit squad at the country's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, a source told CNN.
The source, who has read a translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi's painful last moments, said it was clear the killing was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist, CNN said.
The source describes Khashoggi struggling against a group of people determined to kill him.
"I can't breathe," Khashoggi says, three times.
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The transcript notes the sounds of Khashoggi's body being dismembered by a saw, as the alleged perpetrators are advised to listen to music to block out the sound, the source said.
Middle East Eye reported the same detail in October less than two weeks after Khashoggi's murder, based on the account of a Turkish source who had listened to the audio tape.
One of the 15 Saudi suspects widely reported to have travelled to Istanbul as part of a hit squad is Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi general security department, who is alleged to have dismembered Khashoggi's body with a bone saw.
“When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too,” Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE.
MEE's source said that the tape indicated that it had taken the journalist seven minutes to die.
According to CNN's source, the transcript suggests a series of phone calls are made, briefing on the progress of the operation. Turkish officials believe the calls were made to senior figures in Riyadh.
The transcript indicates at least three phone calls were made by Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, the suspected leader of the hit squad, to an assumed superior, the source said.
"Tell yours, the thing is done, it's done," Mureb is reported to have said. The source said intelligence services that had read or heard the transcript were working on the assumption that "yours" is a reference to Saud al-Qahtani, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's former top aide who was dismissed in the aftermath of the killing.
The office of a US senator who has received a briefing on the investigation by CIA Director Gina Haspel, told CNN that the source's recollections of the transcript are "consistent" with that briefing.
The original transcript of the audio was prepared by Turkish intelligence services, CNN said. Turkish officials have never said how they obtained the audio.
Turkey has a complete record of communications in and out of Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate in the week of Jamal Khashoggi's murder, a senior Turkish source recently told MEE.
These recordings, MEE reported earlier, have given Turkey a detailed picture of the various operatives, teams and missions issued from Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi embassy in Washington told CNN that it had "reviewed the transcript and tape materials through Turkish security channels and nowhere in them is there any reference or indication of a call being made".
"If there is additional information Turkish authorities have that we are unaware of, we would welcome it being officially handed over to us for review, which we have requested numerous times and are still requesting. And, up until now; we have not received anything," an embassy official said.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has so far pledged to remain a steadfast supporter of the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the country's de facto leader, despite the murder of Khashoggi.
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The case has highlighted growing tensions between the Trump administration and the CIA, which concluded last month that the crown prince, commonly known as MBS, ordered Khashoggi's murder.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubts over the US intelligence agency's assessment, while Saudi officials have repeatedly denied that the crown prince had any knowledge of Khashoggi's murder or its subsequent cover-up.
White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner maintained informal contact with MBS and publicly defended him after the killing of Khashoggi, the New York Times reported on Saturday, citing two former senior American officials and the two people briefed by the Saudis.
As the murder of the Saudi journalist set off a media firestorm and American intelligence agencies concluded that it was ordered by MBS, Kushner became the prince’s primary defender inside the White House, people familiar with its internal deliberations told the Times.
Still, a bipartisan group of senior US senators last week introduced a resolution denouncing MBS for his alleged role in the murder of Khashoggi, as well as the war in Yemen and Riyadh's diplomatic standoff with Qatar.
The bill needs a simple majority to pass, though it is largely symbolic as it does not impose any sanctions or legal repercussions on the crown prince or Saudi Arabia generally.