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Order to kill Khashoggi came from 'highest levels' of Saudi government: Erdogan

In Washington Post column, Turkish president calls for 'puppetmasters' behind Saudi journalist's killing to be revealed
Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he doesn't believe Saudi King Salman ordered hit on Khashoggi (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Saudi Arabia over its handling of the Jamal Khashoggi slaying case, saying the order to kill the exiled Saudi journalist was ordered at "the highest levels of the Saudi government".

In a hard-hitting Washington Post column published on Friday, Erdogan said Khashoggi's killing was "inexplicable" and called for "the identities of the puppetmasters behind" his assassination to be revealed.

"We know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government," Erdogan wrote.

He said Saudi officials have not provided a full explanation for what happened at their consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, the day Khashoggi, a prominent Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi policies, was last seen.

That includes lingering questions about where Khashoggi's body is and the identity of a "local collaborator" that Saudi officials have said was tasked with disposing of the journalist's remains, Erdogan said.

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Erdogan said he doesn't "believe for a second" that Saudi King Salman personally ordered the hit on Khashoggi.

But his article made no mention of the king's son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seen as the kingdom's de-facto ruler.

Critics have accused bin Salman, also known as MBS, of being involved in Khashoggi's killing, though the Saudis have denied that he had any knowledge of the murder or its subsequent cover-up.

Instead, they have pointed the finger at several high-ranking officials, including a top aide to MBS, Saud al-Qahtani, who was recently sacked as part of Riyadh's probe into what happened.

Khashoggi went to the consulate to retrieve paperwork for his pending marriage and never emerged from the building.

The Saudis' story has changed repeatedly since that time, with the country's public prosecutor saying last week that Khashoggi's killing was premeditated.

Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and then dismembered in the consulate, Turkish officials have told Middle East Eye, and a senior aide to Erdogan said on Friday that the journalist's body was dissolved in acid.

Saudi consul general 'lied through his teeth,' Erdogan says

In his Post column, Erdogan said Ankara and Riyadh enjoy "friendly relations," but warned against committing such acts on Turkish soil again.

"No one should dare to commit such acts on the soil of a Nato ally again. If anyone chooses to ignore that warning, they will face severe consequences," Erdogan wrote in his Post column.

"Nonetheless, I must add that our friendship with Riyadh, which goes back a long time, doesn't mean we will turn a blind eye to the premeditated murder that unfolded in front of our very eyes," he continued.

Erdogan also accused Saudi officials involved in the investigation of attempting to "cover up" what took place and said the Saudi consul general in Istanbul and Saudi Arabia's chief prosecutor have failed to explain what happened.

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"Though Riyadh has detained 18 suspects, it is deeply concerning that no action has been taken against the Saudi consul general, who lied through his teeth to the media and fled Turkey shortly afterward," Erdogan said.

"Likewise, the refusal of the Saudi public prosecutor - who recently visited his counterpart in Istanbul - to cooperate with the investigation and answer even simple questions is very frustrating. His invitation for Turkish investigators to Saudi Arabia for more talks about the case felt like a desperate and deliberate stalling tactic," he added.

On Thursday, Washington Post CEO Fred Ryan dedicated an award speech to Khashoggi, and called upon the US government to immediately suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Upon receiving a leadership award from the International Women's Media Foundation, Ryan said the slain journalist "told the truth about Saudi Arabia's continued repression of women".

"While much was made of women being allowed to drive, Jamal pointed out that many who had championed this cause - women and men - were arrested and still languish in Saudi prisons."

He added: "Our government should immediately suspend arms deals with the Saudis.

"They should demand that the Saudi government immediately release all detained journalists and dissidents from prison."

Also on Thursday, the Washington Post reported that bin Salman had described Khashoggi as a "dangerous Islamist" and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in a phone call with top White House officials shortly after his disappearance.

Khashoggi's family denies the claim, telling the Washington Post that he was not a member of the group. "He denied such claims repeatedly over the past several years," the family said in a statement to the US newspaper.

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