Turkish investigators are focusing their search for the body of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on a remote farm southeast of Istanbul, based on new intelligence showing that a Saudi agent involved in Khashoggi’s death called the owner of the farm a day before the killing, a Turkish official briefed on the investigation said Sunday.
Turkish officials had previously identified Mansour Othman M. Abahussain, who made the call, as a member of a 15-man Saudi squad that allegedly killed and dismembered Khashoggi soon after the journalist entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
On Oct. 1, Abahussain “placed a call from his personal cellphone” to the owner of a large farm in a rural area near Yalova, on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, according to the official, who quoted from a confidential investigative report. The report identified the owner of the farm as a Saudi national but did not specify what was discussed, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details from the ongoing investigation.
It remains to be seen whether the new information will help in Turkey’s search for Khashoggi’s remains, which could provide critical information about how he was killed. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have said that Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post who had criticized the Saudi leadership, was killed by the team of Saudi agents in the consulate. But they have sharply disagreed about the events leading up to his death.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the killing was premeditated and that it was ordered by the “highest levels” of the Saudi government. Turkish officials have detailed what they say is evidence of Saudi planning – including the scouting of locations where Khashoggi’s body could be dumped – as well as extensive attempts by Saudi agents to cover up the crime.
Intelligence officials in several Western countries say the killing was almost certainly carried out with either the authorization or knowledge of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
Saudi prosecutors have denied that Mohammed knew about the killing and have cast it as a rogue operation carried out by agents who disobeyed official orders to either persuade or force Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia. And the prosecutors have professed ignorance about the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains, saying that the Saudi agents turned over his body to a local “collaborator.”
Prosecutors have not named the collaborator or publicly released a sketch they said had been produced of his likeness. Turkish officials have said they strongly suspect that there is no such person.
Police had previously searched areas in Yalova as well as around Istanbul, including the Saudi Consulate, the nearby residence of the Saudi consul-general and a forest on the outskirts of the city. As Khashoggi’s children have issued emotional appeals for the return of their father’s body, Turkish officials have accused Saudi Arabia of withholding information that could aid in the search.
Abahussain was among 17 Saudi nationals who were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department this month for their role in the killing. A news article four years ago had described a man with the same name as a lieutenant colonel in the Saudi civil defense force. A popular caller-ID app had identified Abahussain as working in intelligence.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Kareem Fahim