Saudis Confirm Khashoggi's Death
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Saudi Arabia now says Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2. This admission comes after two weeks of denials. Saudi agents killed him after some kind of altercation broke out, according to the official account. Eighteen people have been arrested in the case. And Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman purged two of his advisers who were said to be linked to the operation. President Trump called the Saudi statement credible, a good first step. But key members of Congress from both sides of the aisle questioned the Saudi account, which is at odds with the Turkish explanation that says there was a Saudi hit-team with a bone saw and a plan to kill Jamal Khashoggi. With us this morning is NPR's Deb Amos, who's covered Saudi Arabia for years. Deborah, thanks so much for being with us.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: You have seen the Saudi statement. What does it tell you about how the kingdom is handling the crisis?
AMOS: What we see is that for the first time, officially, the Saudis say that Jamal Khashoggi is dead. The account places blame on senior advisers - none of them royals - for a policy that's gone terribly wrong. The Saudis now admit that there's a standing order to bring dissidents back to the kingdom by force, if necessary. But the account lays the blame on these senior security officials who went beyond the order. They killed this dissident journalist. They covered up the murder. Why did the Saudi leadership fail to confirm his death earlier? Bad news travels slowly to the top is how one Saudi defender put it on Twitter. These latest accounts distanced the top leadership and especially the powerful crown prince. But there are so many questions left to be answered.
SIMON: One of the biggest right in front of us - where is Mr. Khashoggi's body?
AMOS: Indeed. So the Saudi account says that his body was handed over to a local Turk for disposal. Turkish authorities have been continuing this investigation. And now it's in a forest near the - you know, the consulate. So the official account doesn't explain why a 15-man team was sent to Istanbul or why a 60-year-old Jamal Khashoggi would start a brawl with this large group. Most of them were half of his age. You know, those - the names and the ages of this squad have been documented by The New York Times and The Washington Post. And the Turks leaked those names in the run-up to the official account, which was made public on Saudi TV early this morning. There's been this online army of Saudi social media bots. It's a smear campaign against Khashoggi. There's another hashtag that says, we all trust Mohammed bin Salman that began trending on Twitter. Twitter is hugely popular in the kingdom. And you have to read it to see what's going on internally.
SIMON: And, of course, another question that has to be raised - how could an operation on this scale take place without explicit knowledge from the top, including the crown prince himself? And are - can you see any signs there will be consequences for the crown prince?
AMOS: At the moment, no. What's happened is the king has put him in charge of a commission to revamp Saudi security services. They decimated the top leadership after this official statement. So for the moment, he still has the backing of the king. This is one of the most opaque leaderships in the world. It makes Kremlinology look like an easy task. So I think it's really hard for us to say at the moment if, you know, he is in danger from people within the royal circle. He is backed by the king. He will be the head of this commission. So far, nothing has touched him.
SIMON: President Trump says it's a good first step and calls the account credible. Does that end the story on the side?
AMOS: Scott, you've already seen huge reactions in Congress across the aisle. Lindsey Graham said it wasn't credible. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House intelligence committee, also says he has seen intelligence that refutes the Saudi version. Today, we see on Twitter that Turkish officials say that they will also be releasing some statements later today. You know that their account is very different from the Saudis. I think this story is far from over.
SIMON: NPR's Deborah Amos, thanks so much for being with us.
AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.