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Turkey says Khashoggi dissolved in acid as Netanyahu backs Saudis

Speaking on the one-month anniversary of journalist's murder, Israel's PM says priority must be to stop 'malign' Iranian actions
A demonstrator holds a poster picturing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a lightened candle during a gathering outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul. (AFP)

As a senior Turkish official revealed Jamal Khashoggi's body was dissolved in acid by Saudi agents sent to kill him, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the journalist's murder must not risk Saudi Arabia's "stability".

The Israeli leader's first comments on the murder come exactly one month after 15 Saudis linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) lured the Washington Post columnist and Middle East Eye writer to his country's consulate in Istanbul, where he was killed and dismembered.

Under immense pressure, Riyadh has admitted that Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi death squad in a premeditated murder. However, despite the presence of several of MBS's bodyguards, the Saudis insist that the crown prince had no knowledge of the operation or its cover-up.

Many senior politicians, in Washington and across the world, have expressed immense scepticism on the subject of MBS's innocence, with even US President Donald Trump acknowledging earlier that "the prince is running things over there".

Netanyahu, however, announced that the kingdom's stability was of tantamount importance, as the current government is also an enemy of Israel's arch-foe Iran.

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Speaking during a visit to Bulgaria on Friday, Netanyahu described the killing of Khashoggi - apparently carried out by a Saudi hit squad close to MBS - as a tragedy that needed to be "dealt with".

"What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with," he said.

"Yet at the same time it is very important, for the stability of the world and the region, that Saudi Arabia remain stable."

He said that regional governments needed to remain focused on countering the influence of Iran, something which Israel and Saudi Arabia have found common cause on in recent years.

"A way must be found to achieve both goals on the Khashoggi issue because the larger problem is Iran and we have to make sure that Iran does not continue the malign activities," he said.

Not the first of its kind

Accompanying Netanyahu's statement that Saudi Arabia was a bulwark against malign Iranian activities was a report on Friday that Turkish officials believe the Khashoggi assassination was not the first of its kind.

An anonymous Turkish official told Al Jazeera that Ankara has evidence that the murder squad sent to kill Khashoggi had carried out similar operations before.

Middle East Eye previously revealed that members of the team of 15 Saudis sent to kill the prominent critic of Mohammed bin Salman were part of the Tiger Squad, an elite unit closely linked to the crown prince which is tasked with assassinating Saudi dissidents.

"They [the Saudi leadership] have the belief that arresting critics will mount pressure on them, so that's why they started assassinating them quietly," a Saudi source told MEE.

The Tiger Squad's victims include Prince Mansour bin Moqren, whose helicopter was shot down as he tried to escape, and judge Suliman Abdul Rahman al-Thuniyan, who criticised MBS's Vision 2030 economic plan, according to MEE's source.

Speaking to Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper on Friday, one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's top advisors said Khashoggi's dismembered body had been dissolved in acid.

"We now see that it wasn't just cut up, they got rid of the body by dissolving it," Yasin Aktay said. "According to the latest information we have, the reason they cut up the body is it was easier to dissolve it." 

According to the latest information we have, the reason they cut up the body is it was easier to dissolve it

- Yasin Aktay, Turkish official

MEE previously reported that Turkish investigators were examining the possibility that Khashoggi's body was dissolved in acid or burnt.

However, following Saudi claims that a "local collaborator" was given the body to dispose of, Turkish investigators turned their attention to the possibility Khashoggi's remains could be found in woodland on the city's outskirts and a town some 90km from Istanbul.

The Turkish authorities now believe that was "Saudi misdirection" and the chief Saudi prosecutor told his Turkish counterpart that such a person does not exist, MEE understands.

Investigators are also looking into the possibility that part, or all, of Khashoggi's remains were taken to Riyadh in a private jet by one of MBS's bodyguards.

"Killing an innocent person is one crime, the treatment and extent of what was done to the body is another crime and dishonour," said Aktay, who was close to Khashoggi and helped raise the alarm when the journalist failed to emerge from the Saudi consulate exactly one month ago.

An anonymous Turkish official told the Washington Post on Thursday that "biological evidence" found in the consulate's garden indicated that Khashoggi's remains were likely disposed of close to where he was killed.

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