Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday demanded that Saudi Arabia’s leaders reveal the location of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body, dismissing their shifting explanations for his Oct. 2 death inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as “comical.”
“These childish statements do not match with the seriousness of government affairs and statesmanship. … Where is the body?” Erdogan said in an address to his ruling Justice and Development Party in the capital, Ankara, according to the Turkish state-run international news agency Anadolu.
He added that 18 Saudi nationals now under investigation in Saudi Arabia know who killed Khashoggi, referring to members of a group of Saudis who had traveled to Istanbul hours before the killing and returned hours after the journalist disappeared.
He also demanded that Saudi authorities reveal the identity of a local Turkish collaborator Saudi authorities claim disposed of the body after it had been hidden inside a rolled-up carpet.
“They key point is the cooperation of these 18 people,” Erdogan said. “If [the Saudis] cannot make them talk — the event took place in the consulate general in Istanbul — then hand them to us, and let us judge them.”
After weeks of denying any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts, Saudi Arabia acknowledged the journalist was killed at its consulate and arrested 15 Saudi nationals who had gone back and forth from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, as well as three others, and said it would investigate and try those involved in its own judiciary system.
The Saudi government also removed five key associates of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely suspected of involvement in the slaying of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote critically of the Saudi government.
Ramping up pressure on Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto leader, Erdogan asked Friday: “Above all, who gave the order to send those people to Turkey?”
Saudi Arabia’s chief prosecutor is due to arrive in Istanbul on Sunday, said Erdogan, adding that Turkey would reveal more information and evidence related to the killing.
Friday’s speech was the latest shift in a diplomatic dance that has seen Erdogan switch from saying he “trusted the sincerity” of Saudi monarch King Salman to excoriating Saudi officials for their varying explanations.
On Wednesday, the Turkish leader appeared to have reached a detente with the crown prince, discussing in a phone call joint efforts to clarify “all aspects” of Khashoggi’s killing, according to an Anadolu report. Mohammed said the issue would not “drive a wedge” between the two countries.
But Erdogan’s words two days later, among his harshest since the crisis began, signaled a renewed determination to pressure Saudi Arabia on an issue that threatens to neuter the crown prince, dashing the Trump administration’s plans to put him at the center of its vision for the Middle East and its no-holds-barred attitude against Iran.
But the Saudis have made themselves an easy target: Initially, Riyadh claimed Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate alive. Weeks later, it acknowledged he was killed but said it was a kidnapping gone wrong. Then it admitted he had been murdered.
On Wednesday, Mohammed, speaking for the first time about the killing, calling it a “heinous” and “unjustified” crime and pledging to work with Turkish authorities in their investigation.
The vacillations spurred many Western nations and companies to reduce or terminate their participation in a high-stakes investor conference in Riyadh, while making even the staunchest of Saudi Arabia’s allies in the U.S. question how the royal family could not have known of the plan to kill Khashoggi.
Yet the answer may not matter: The oil-rich nation has continued to woo investors with deals valued at $50 billion in the last few days, according to pro-Saudi media, with a pivot to Russian and Chinese firms who opted not to join the boycott of the conference.
A signal of that pivot came Friday, when the Kremlin said it saw no grounds to doubt that the royal family had not been involved in Khashoggi’s killing.
“Actually,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to a report from Russian state news agency Tass, “no one should have any grounds not to believe them.”
“All the rest is a matter of investigation, and the royal family itself wants that too. We welcome that.”