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Turkey's President Says Khashoggi's Death Was Planned

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It would be going too far to say that Turkey's president has disclosed everything he knows about the murder of a journalist. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan has put definite accusations on the record today. He is addressing a meeting of his ruling party. He's been talking of the death of Jamal Khashoggi, who walked into a Saudi Consulate in Turkey on October 2 and never emerged.

Erdogan says this death was a premeditated killing by Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi's native nation, which his writings criticized. The Saudi government first said it knew nothing of his disappearance and then said Khashoggi died in a fight and that it is still investigating. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul. Hi there, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what evidence has Erdogan put on the table?

KENYON: Well, he says the evidence that they have so far strongly suggests that this was a planned operation, basically dismissing the Saudi story that it was an accident. One new thing that he said is that part of the evidence that they have is that the Saudi team that showed up in advance of the killing scouted out some areas, possibly, for disposal of a body, including a forest in northeast Istanbul. And then he also, in his remarks, called on Riyadh to allow the 18 people they've arrested in connection with Khashoggi's death to be prosecuted in Turkey. They have all gone back to Riyadh or Saudi Arabia, so they would have to be extradited.

The Turkish president also says this evidence they've got so far raises big questions, including on whose orders was this killing carried out? Why was there such a delay in allowing the consulate and other properties to be searched? And why has the Saudi explanation of what happened changed so many times? So it all points to the fundamental question, was it a rogue operation as Riyadh suggests, or was the leadership involved?

INSKEEP: OK, so some new information there affirming on the record that the Turks believe the Saudi team scouted places to dispose of a body. Did Erdogan confirm any of the other various news reports about bits of damning information?

KENYON: Well, probably the biggest thing that has come out so far in anonymous reports from investigators is the claim of audio, possibly even video evidence, to back up the Saudi investigation, the claim it'd look into the Saudi involvement in this. No official has said on the record that that tape exists. No one has denied it. So that still remains unresolved.

INSKEEP: Why would it be the president of Turkey personally giving us information about this as opposed to a prosecutor or investigator, some lower-level official?

KENYON: Well, it's big is the basic answer. I mean, the world attention to this has been huge. There's no sign of it fading. Erdogan has decided that he needs to be involved and be seen to be involved. He was at pains in his remarks today to assure people there will be no cover-up. And this is - although, at the same time, we have to notice - a joint investigation with the Saudis. That has raised some eyebrows. So far, investigators, though, have shown no sign of going easy on Riyadh.

INSKEEP: Well, is Erdogan, who is no fan of a free press - has jailed many journalists - is he using this case to get at the Saudis in some way?

KENYON: Well, that's certainly an aspect of this. I mean, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are longtime regional allies - big differences in foreign policy, on religion. Turkey's also an important NATO ally to the U.S. The Saudis and the Israelis are big allies. So this could be an opportunity for Erdogan to raise Turkey's star as a key Muslim power, a vital Mideast player. Any big jolt to the Saudi status, of course, would be a big change for the U.S. foreign policy.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks very much as always, appreciate the update.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon, who reports regularly from Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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