A phone call recording collected by the Turkish intelligence links the brutal murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, The New York Times reports.
Citing three people familiar with the recording, The Times on Monday reported a secret phone conversation made by Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a member of the 15-man Saudi hit squad that killed Khashoggi, to a superior believed to be bin Salman’s aide.
In the phone call, which came shortly after Khashoggi’s murder on October 2 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Mutreb instructed his superior in Arabic to “tell your boss” that the murder mission had been accomplished.
American intelligence officials said “your boss” was a reference to MbS.
Meanwhile, Turkish intelligence officers told American officials they believed that Mutreb was speaking to bin Salman’s aide. Mutreb himself is a security officer who has frequently traveled with the Saudi crown prince.
According to the report, intelligence officials view the recording as “some of the strongest evidence” linking bin Salman to the murder of his outspoken critic.
“A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” said former CIA officer Bruce O. Riedel. “It is pretty incriminating evidence.”
Saudi officials, however, denied that the crown prince “had any knowledge whatsoever” of Khashoggi’s killing.
Riyadh finally acknowledged that Khashoggi had been murdered in a “premeditated” operation, after weeks of denials of any involvement in his disappearance.
Turkey’s chief prosecutor said the Washington Post columnist had been strangled upon arrival at the Saudi consulate and then dismembered.
A source at Turkish attorney general’s office said Saudi authorities had used acid and other chemicals to dispose of the body.
Separately on Tuesday, Turkey’s Daily Sabah daily released X-ray pictures of the Saudi hit squad’s luggage taken at airport security checks.
The photos showed a large scissor, scalpel and an electroshock device.
The latest revelations could deal another blow to Saudi attempts to distance bin Salman from the gruesome murder, which has drawn an international outcry.
The call was part of a recording that the Turks played for CIA chief Gina Haspel during her visit to Ankara last month.
Turkey said it had shared the audio recordings with several countries, including Saudi Arabia and the US.
It is not clear how many recordings the Turkish intelligence is in possession of. Reuters cited two sources with knowledge of the issue as saying that Ankara has several of them.
On Monday, Canada – which is involved in its own diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s human rights violations — confirmed that it had been “fully briefed on what Turkey had to share.”
“Canada’s intelligence agencies have been working very closely on this issue with Turkish intelligence,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “We continue to be engaged with our allies on the investigation into accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and we are in discussions with our like-minded allies as to the next steps toward Saudi Arabia.”
Erdogan calls recordings ‘appalling’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday described the audio recordings Ankara has shared with Western states as “appalling.”
“The recordings are really appalling. Indeed when the Saudi intelligence officer listened to the recordings he was so shocked he said: This one must have taken heroin, only someone who takes heroin would do this,” he added.
Erdogan said it was clear the murder had been planned, and that the order came from the top level of Saudi authorities, but that he could not think such a thing of King Salman.
“The crown prince says ‘I will clarify the matter, I will do what is necessary.’ We are waiting patiently,” Erdogan said.
The perpetrators were among 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia, said the Turkish president. “It must be revealed who gave them the order to murder.”
Meanwhile, US Representative Adam B. Schiff told The New York Timesthat investigators were unlikely to collect a piece of evidence that incontrovertibly links bin Salman to Khashoggi’s death.
“You are not going to have any of the people who carried out the murder speak openly about who they got their orders from or who is in the loop on it,” Schiff said. “That is not realistic to expect.”
Schiff further vowed to probe Khashoggi’s killing and examine Saudi Arabia’s actions in the Middle East, including its military campaign in Yemen, when he takes charge of the House Intelligence Committee.
“We need to do our own due diligence, we need to make sure we are getting good intelligence, and we need to make sure the administration doesn’t misrepresent to the country what foreign actors are doing,” he added.