The Khashoggi case – a timeline of events

Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, died a brutal death in his country’s consulate in Istanbul. The anniversary of his death will be commemorated for the fourth time on 2 October 2022. The case triggered a major crisis in Saudi Arabia. Here is an overview of the events.

First published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 25 March 2020. Fabian Urech: Der Fall Khashoggi – eine Chronologie der Ereignisse (The Khashoggi case  – a timeline). 

28 September 2018

It is a Friday and Jamal Khashoggi visits the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a confirmation of divorce from his Saudi ex-wife. He needs it to be able to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

According to Cengiz and another friend, a staff member at the consulate tells him to collect the document the following week. Over the weekend, Khashoggi attends a conference in London. The New York Times says he calls the consulate from London announcing that he will pick up the required document on Tuesday, 2 October.

2 October 2018

A surveillance camera records Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in the early afternoon. He is deemed to be missing from this point onwards.

According to information from sources involved in the investigation, two planes from Riyadh carrying a group of fifteen Saudi agents touch down in Istanbul early in the morning of the same day. According to information from Turkish authorities, the suspected special unit is at the Saudi consulate during the same time period in which Khashoggi is also present.

Cengiz waits for her fiancé in front of the consulate. When Khashoggi does not appear even after several hours, she contacts the police.

3 October 2018

Cengiz returns to the Saudi consulate, but there is no trace of her fiancé. Various media outlets – including the Reuters news agency and the Washington Post – report the disappearance of the Saudi journalist.

Saudi authorities release a statement: they say Khashoggi is missing, but he had left the consulate the previous day. Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities say that Khashoggi is still inside the consulate building.

4/5 October 2018

In Ankara, the Saudi ambassador is called in. The Turkish government demands an explanation as to Khashoggi’s whereabouts.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says that he will allow the Turkish authorities to search the consulate in Istanbul. The crown prince says Khashoggi had left the building before he disappeared. “We have nothing to hide”, Salman insists.

6/7 October 2018

According to reports from the Reuters news agency that cite sources in the Turkish government, Ankara is working from the assumption that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate. Officially, the Turkish government only confirms that an investigation has been launched.

Various Turkish and international media outlets now report that Khashoggi has been tortured and killed in the consulate. A representative from the Turkish ruling party AKP tells CNN Türk that Ankara has evidence that Khashoggi has been murdered. Saudi Arabia categorically rejects the allegations.

8/9 October 2018

The pressure on Riyadh grows. After a long period of silence, the US government comments on the case. “We call on the government of Saudi Arabia to support a thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance”, says US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Vice President Mike Pence tweets that he is “deeply troubled” by the journalist’s disappearance. The US says that it expects transparency from Riyadh in the investigation.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also calls on the Saudi authorities to supply evidence for their version of events. If Saudi Arabia claims the journalist left the consulate in Istanbul alive, “the competent authorities need to prove this”, says Erdogan. To underline the urgency of the demand, the Saudi ambassador is summoned in Ankara for the second time in a week.

Turkish investigators receive permission to search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi authorities had approved a corresponding request from Ankara to do so, the Turkish foreign ministry says.

Citing Turkish security sources, the New York Times reports that a team of fifteen Saudi agents murdered Khashoggi in the consulate, before dismembering his body with a bone saw and probably removing the human remains from the consulate in suitcases.

10 October 2018

Evidence of a murder builds. According to a report from Sabah, a pro-Turkish government newspaper, Turkey’s investigations are focused on the fifteen men who are said to have killed Khashoggi. According to the report and CCTV images that are shown on Turkish television, six cars with the fifteen Saudi government and secret service officials apparently left the consulate premises two-and-a-half-hours after Khashoggi entered.

The sources say that a black Mercedes Vito with tinted windows and another vehicle drove to the consul-general’s residence located around 200 metres away, where they remained for four hours. Turkish staff at the Saudi consulate had unexpectedly been told not to show up to work on the day in question, reports Sabah.

11/12 October 2018

Video and audio recordings from the Saudi consulate are said to prove that Khashoggi has been murdered. The Washington Post cites an anonymous source who apparently has knowledge of the recordings. The source says they confirm that Khashoggi was initially interrogated, before being tortured and ultimately murdered.

Milliyet, a Turkish daily paper with close ties to the government, also reports on audio recordings that the paper says include heated arguments and screams. According to the report, the recordings come from Khashoggi’s smart watch that he was wearing when he entered the consulate. The smart watch was connected to a mobile phone outside the consulate, the paper claims.

13 October 2018

US President Donald Trump threatens Riyadh with “severe punishment” if the reports about Khashoggi’s murder are confirmed. In an interview, Trump suggests that he thinks the missing Saudi journalist is dead. But he says that the $110 billion dollar arms trade with Saudi Arabia should not be affected by any sanctions.

Turkey accuses Saudi Arabia of not being sufficiently cooperative with the investigations. Mevlüt Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, again calls on Riyadh to allow Turkish investigators access to the consulate in Istanbul. In spite of mutual assurances, Saudi Arabia has still not granted access to the consulate.

14 October 2018

Riyadh reacts angrily to the threat of sanctions from Washington. Saudi Arabia says “if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action”, the SPA state news agency reports an official as saying. The official says the Kingdom rejects any attempts to undermine it by threatening economic sanctions or by applying political pressure. On this Sunday, the threat from Washington sees the Saudi sharemarket suffer its worst slump in three years. For a period, shares fall by seven percentage points.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the United Kingdom call on Saudi Arabia to explain Khashoggi’s disappearance. The three countries “are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness”, the statement says. The foreign ministers expect “a complete and detailed response” from the Saudi government.

For the first time since Khashoggi disappeared, Erdogan speaks with bin Salman. According to the Turkish news agency Anadolu, the Sunday evening phone call is said to have considered setting up a joint working group to undertake a thorough investigation of the case.

15 October 2018

Turkish and Saudi investigators search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. They leave the building again after nine hours, the Turkish state news agency Anadolu reports in the evening. According to Anadolu, the investigators also take samples from the consulate’s garden. Two municipal waste collection vehicles are also sent to the consulate. It is not clear why.

On Monday night, Trump calls King Salman and enquires about Khashoggi’s whereabouts. According to the White House, Salman vigorously denies knowledge of what has happened to the journalist.

The US president also announces that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will soon head to Riyadh, before continuing to Turkey.

16 October 2018

It is a Tuesday morning. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Riyadh for talks with King Salman at which Khashoggi’s fate is the focus. In the evening, a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on the agenda. Pompeo intends to travel on to Turkey the following day.

The Saudi royal family continues to insist that it has nothing to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance.

17 October 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flies from Riyadh to Turkey. Before taking off for Ankara, Pompeo states that Saudi officials had assured him that they were also interested in solving the case and wanted to hold all individuals involved to account.

In Ankara, Pompeo meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Turkish foreign ministry counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu. Few details about the nature of the conversations are known.

Turkish media now report that traces of DNA pointing to Khashoggi’s killing have been recovered.

Sabah, a Turkish daily newspaper aligned with the government, now also releases footage from surveillance cameras that appear to show the alleged ringleader of the fifteen-person “hit squad” responsible for killing Khashoggi. He is said to be a man called Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb. Mutreb apparently previously served as a diplomat. A list from the British foreign office from 2007 records him as a First Secretary in the Saudi embassy in London. Mutreb has already accompanied the Saudi crown prince on numerous foreign trips throughout 2018, research by the New York Times shows. Pictures from March show him in Boston, while there are also images of Mutreb from April in Madrid, Paris and Houston. In each case, he is standing only metres away from the crown prince.

Meanwhile, more and more details about alleged audio recordings held by Turkey are becoming public. According to media reports, the recordings include the forensics expert from the fifteen-person team that travelled from Riyadh to Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi’s disappearance advising his colleagues to listen to music while he dismembered Khashoggi’s corpse.

The US president still shies away from condemning the Saudi royal family. He says in an interview that the principle of innocent until proven guilty applies. Trump expects to have answers on Khashoggi’s disappearance by the end of the week.

18 October 2018

President Trump changes his tone. He now believes that Khashoggi is dead. Intelligence information from several sources now indicates that the journalist was killed by an elite Saudi hit squad, Trump tells journalists from the New York Times. Trump also admits that the Khashoggi case is one of the biggest foreign policy crises of his presidency. The allegations against the Kingdom call into question the US’s alliance with Saudi Arabia.

As a further sign of the changed American position, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cancels his participation in “Davos in the desert”. The investor conference that is scheduled for the following week is supposed to present Saudi Arabia as a future-focused economic powerhouse. In the wake of the Khashoggi affair, a large number of attendees have already pulled out, including the finance ministers of the United Kingdom, France and The Netherlands. Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has also cancelled her attendance.

The US Secretary of State is back in Washington, following his visits to Riyadh and Ankara. Pompeo tells journalists that he is giving the Saudis a few more days to complete their investigation. American media say that Washington has set Riyadh a deadline of three days to provide clarity. The first rumours begin to circulate that Saudi Arabia is considering a partial confession.

20 October 2018

Early on Saturday morning, there is a dramatic turn of events: the Saudi government admits that Khashoggi has suffered a violent death in the consulate in Istanbul. But the Kingdom says the journalist’s death was an accident. Khashoggi has been accidentally killed in an argument that turned into a “fist fight”, the Saudis say.

According to official information from Riyadh, five government representatives have been dismissed and 18 suspects have been detained.  In all likelihood they are being used as scapegoats to exonerate the crown prince who is under suspicion.

The US states that it will closely follow the next steps of the Saudi criminal investigation. On the way to an election campaign event, President Trump says that he certainly thinks it is possible that the crown prince knew nothing about the murder. In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump later says: “Obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies”. But Trump also defends Saudi Arabia as an “incredible ally” and calls the Saudi crown prince “a strong person”.

Reactions from other countries to the Saudi statement about Khashoggi’s death show great scepticism. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini calls for a “thorough, credible and transparent investigation”.

21 October 2018

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir attempts to remove doubts about Riyadh’s account of Khashoggi’s death. Jubeir tells the American network  Fox News that the royal family will do everything to shed light on the circumstances of the death and to hold the perpetrators to account. He says an enormous and terrible mistake has been made. “This is a terrible tragedy.” Jubeir denies that the royal family and in particular Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had given orders to kidnap or murder Khashoggi.

Erdogan, the Turkish president, signals a more comprehensive statement on the case will be released on Tuesday. The day before, representatives from the ruling AKP party had declared that they will not tolerate any cover up.

Given the inconsistencies over Khashoggi’s death, Germany’s government suspends arms exports from the country to Saudi Arabia for the time being. Chancellor Angela Merkel says on Sunday evening that arms exports could not go ahead “in the situation we are currently in”.

23 October 2018

Turkey’s president makes his much-anticipated appearance at Parliament in Ankara. There are no doubts that a planned and premeditated murder has been carried out, Erdogan says. While he defends Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, he suggests that he suspects Crown Prince Mohammed of having ordered the killing.

Erdogan outlines the course of events, as far as investigators have been able to reconstruct them. For example, he cites the travel times of the fifteen Saudis who are said to be responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. He points to the fact that a forested area near Istanbul had been inspected before the murder was carried out to check its suitability as a place for disposal of the body. Erdogan adds that a man who was of a similar age and appearance to Khashoggi was a member of the Saudi squad. Following the killing, the body double left the consulate in Khashoggi’s clothes. With his claims, Erdogan contradicts the Saudi account of a failed kidnapping attempt of which the Saudi leadership had no knowledge.

The Turkish president has specific demands: he calls for Saudi Arabia to hand over the members of the special unit who have been detained in the country.  Erdogan also wants Riyadh to answer a series of questions, including: Why did they allow the consulate to be searched only a fortnight after Khashoggi’s disappearance? Where is the body? Who are the local accomplices in Istanbul that Saudi Arabia has mentioned?

Later on Tuesday, the US government announces that it has imposed initial sanctions against 21 Saudi suspects. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says they include individuals in the intelligence services, the royal court and several ministries. They either have had their visas cancelled or will be added to a US visa blacklist.

26 October 2018

In a new twist, the Saudi attorney general describes the killing of Jamal Khashoggi as an intentional act. With this latest statement, Saudi Arabia moves closer to the Turkish account of events. Salah Khashoggi, Jamal Khashoggi’s eldest son, has received permission to travel to the US to be with his sisters. The Saudi royal court had prevented him for months from leaving the country.

30 October 2018

Turkey does not want to release important evidence in the Khashoggi murder case to the Saudis. This becomes clear after a meeting in Istanbul between the Saudi attorney general Saud al-Mojeb and Turkish chief prosecutor Irfan Fidan. Turkish media outlets with close ties to the government report that Mojeb’s priority has been to find out what Turkey knows about the perpetrators’ potential links to the top, i.e. to the Saudi crown prince. 

31 October 2018

The Turkish public prosecution office makes a statement for the first time. Turkey’s top investigator confirms that the journalist has fallen victim to a cowardly killing. The prosecutor says the body was subsequently cut into pieces and disposed of, a course of action that had been planned in advance.

5 November 2018

In an interview, Khashoggi’s sons call for an investigation. “I really hope that whatever happened wasn’t painful for him or it was quick”, Abdallah Khashoggi, one of the two sons, tells CNN. The son also asks for his father’s remains to be brought back to Saudi Arabia. The sons say that until the body is located, the family will find it impossible to grieve. An adviser to the Turkish president had said on the previous Friday that Khashoggi’s body was dissolved in acid. Earlier, the Saudis had claimed that a “local collaborator” had taken away the body rolled up in a carpet.

10 November 2018

Turkey shares recordings related to the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with a number of countries - including Germany. Saudi Arabia, the US, France and the UK are also among the recipients. According to President Erdogan, the countries have “listened to the (recorded) conversations and they know”. 

3 January 2019

In the Saudi capital Riyadh, a trial begins against eleven suspects in the Khashoggi case. However, their names are not made public. Five of the defendants are accused of direct participation in the murder. The death penalty is sought for them. Neither the attorney general, nor Saudi state media give more details about the opening of the proceedings. It also remains a mystery as to who the defendants are.

19 June 2019

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnès Callamard, concludes there is “credible evidence” to suggest that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be personally responsible for the killing of Khashoggi. Callamard calls for an international investigation to determine liability.

23 December 2019

Five defendants are sentenced to death in a Saudi court. Three other defendants are sentenced to a total of 24 years in prison for “covering up the crime”. Around a year after the killing, Riyadh names three other guilty parties, but keeps their identities secret.

The crown prince’s confidant and high-ranking government official Saud al-Qahtani had also been accused of helping to organise the crime. The public prosecutor said he had been interrogated, but was not charged because there was a lack of evidence for his potential involvement. Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul-general in Istanbul at the time of the killing, is also not charged. Witnesses had testified that he was not working on the day in question.

The trial against eleven – unnamed –  Saudi men had begun in January and ended after ten hearings. Khashoggi’s ten sons and their lawyers, as well as representatives of the five permanent members on the UN Security Council (the US, France, the UK, Russia and China), as well as Turkey, attended the hearings. An appeal can be lodged against all of the verdicts. The names of those convicted will be made public only once all stages of the case have been completed and the sentences are final.

The UN special rapporteur for the case, Agnès Callamard, criticises the verdict as a “farce”. She compares it with the murder of journalist Caruana Galizia in Malta in October 2017. She said that the fact that a forensic doctor had been part of the kill team at least 24 hours before the murder was carried out showed that premeditation was involved.

25 March 2020

In Istanbul, charges are laid against 20 suspects. The office of the Istanbul public prosecutor announces on 25 March that 18 defendants are alleged to have carried out murder with the use of torture. Two other suspects are accused of having instigated the crime. A trial date is not immediately announced.

One of the main suspects who is said to have planned the crime is Saud bin Abdullah al-Qahtani. Al-Qahtani was in charge of media affairs at the Saudi royal court and was dismissed on the night that Riyadh conceded that Khashoggi was dead. Al-Qahtani is said to be a close confidant of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

22 May 2020

Jamal Khashoggi’s sons announce on Twitter that they forgive the perpetrators. This probably paves the way for them to be pardoned and released. By contrast, Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, declares that “no-one has the right to pardon his murderers”.

3 July 2020

20 defendants, all Saudi citizens, are put before a court in Istanbul in absentia. They have legal representation from the Istanbul bar association. The Istanbul public prosecutor’s office accuses Saudi Arabia’s former deputy head of intelligence and the former top media adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani, of instigating Khashoggi’s murder. The public prosecutor’s office alleges that the 18 other men carried out the murder.

7 September 2020

A court in Saudi Arabia sentences eight defendants to seven to 20 years in prison at a closed hearing. Three other defendants are acquitted. However, the proceedings were held in closed court and do not meet any kind of legal standard. Three other defendants, including high-ranking Saudi officials, are acquitted.

2 March 2021

Reporters Without Borders  files a criminal complaint against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Germany’s federal public prosecutor's office, alleging crimes against humanity, in relation to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists.

4 March 2021

The court in Istanbul rejects an application from Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz to admit the previously published report from the US’s Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA) as evidence. In this report, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is named as being responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.

2 October 2021

The “Freedom First” organisation holds a memorial ceremony in front of the US Congress to commemorate the third anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s death. His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who has been trying to hold the perpetrators to account since Khashoggi’s death, takes part.

7 April 2022

After 21 months, the 11th High Criminal Court in Istanbul closes the court proceedings in the murder of the Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and transfers the case to Saudi Arabia.

28 July 2022

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, visits the European Union for the first time since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. US President Joe Biden has also resumed diplomatic relations. 

24 September 2022

German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, travels to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In Saudi Arabia, he meets Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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