Turkey vows to reveal 'naked truth' over Khashoggi death

AFP Istanbul, Turkey Oct 21, 2018, 10.48 PM(IST)

File photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photograph:( Reuters )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday vowed to reveal within days the "naked truth" over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as Riyadh insisted it did not know the whereabouts of his body and that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had been unaware of any operation to kill him. 

In his strongest comments to date on the affair, US President Donald Trump has accused Saudi Arabia of lying about the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who fell out of favour with Riyadh, as pressure built on the administration to strike a tougher line.

But the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, insisted on Sunday that Prince Mohammed was "not aware" of the killing and that the kingdom does not know where the body is.

Erdogan, whose ties to Saudi Arabia appear to have further soured over the Khashoggi case, said he would reveal the findings of his country's investigation into the killing in the coming days.

The Turkish leader's statement came the day after Saudi authorities conceded Khashoggi had been killed inside their diplomatic compound in Istanbul.

"We are looking for justice here and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth," Erdogan told a rally in Istanbul.

Erdogan is expected to make a full statement to his party's MPs in parliament on Tuesday.

Turkish officials have said they believe that 15 Saudi men who arrived in Istanbul on two flights on October 2 were connected to his death.

Riyadh reacted by claiming one of the 15 had died in a car accident years ago.

Saudi officials originally said Khashoggi, who stepped inside the doors of the diplomatic mission on October 2, had left unharmed, before announcing he was killed inside the building in what they described as an altercation.

The kingdom has since admitted Khashoggi died in a "brawl" inside the consulate and said it has fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing.

"Why did the 15 men come here? Why were the 18 people arrested? That should be explained in all its details," said Erdogan.

Khashoggi, who would have been 60 this month, sought refuge in the United States after he fled his native Saudi Arabia following the 2017 appointment of strongman Mohammed bin Salman as heir to the throne.

The journalist, who had espoused both Islamist and liberal views throughout his decades-long career in the press, was engaged to a Turkish woman.

His killing has further soured relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, already at loggerheads over Qatar, with which Riyadh cut ties in 2017 and to which Ankara has deployed aid and troops.

Turkish officials now accuse Riyadh of carrying out a state-sponsored killing and dismembering the body, with pro-government media in Turkey reporting the existence of video and audio evidence to back those claims.

But Erdogan has so far stopped short of making strong statements on the case, often referring to a prosecutor's investigation into the killing. 

Analysts see this as an attempt to avoid provoking a full rupture of relations with Saudi Arabia.

As the Turkish leader is expected to reveal all details into the journalist's killing, Trump stepped back from his stance that Saudi Arabia's latest explanation over the death was credible amid mounting pressure back at home. 

"Obviously there's been deception and there's been lies," he said of the shifting accounts of Khashoggi's death offered by Riyadh.

"Their stories are all over the place."

Several senior members of Trump's Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed, the kingdom's de facto ruler, was linked to the killing, and one called for a "collective" Western response if a link is proved.

Trump has stopped far short of calling for the prince to be replaced, emphasising as he has before how important the US-Saudi relationship is to Washington's regional strategic goals.

He described the 33-year-old prince, widely known as MBS, as a "strong person; he has very good control."

"He's seen as a person who can keep things under check," added Trump. "I mean that in a positive way."

Saudi foreign minister al-Jubeir called the killing a "tremendous mistake" in an interview with Fox News, but one which the US-Saudi leadership would eventually overcome. 

UK, France, Germany intervene
The controversy has put the kingdom -- for decades a key ally in Western efforts to contain Iran -- under unprecedented pressure.

It has also evolved into a major crisis for Prince Mohammed whose image as a modernising Arab reformer has been gravely undermined.

Britain, France and Germany have shown a united front on the Khashoggi killing, demanding Saudi Arabia clarify how the journalist died inside its Istanbul consulate backed by "credible" facts.

Australia, Canada, the UN and the EU have also demanded greater clarity around Khashoggi's death.