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Why Turkish officials keep challenging Saudi Arabia's claims about Khashoggi's killing

Alexandra Ma
  • Turkish officials have continuously leaked intelligence reports about the journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing to US and Turkish media outlets as Saudi Arabia tries to absolve its leadership of responsibility.
  • Many senior officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are also issuing increasingly bold statements implicating the Saudi leadership in Khashoggi's death.
  • Experts say this shows that Turkey is trying to extract some kind of concession from Saudi Arabia, which could come in the form of new contracts or an informal payment.
  • Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a fraught relationship and are both vying to be leaders in the region.

As Saudi Arabia attempts to distance itself from the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey has challenged its version of events at every turn.

Intelligence reports, such as surveillance footage said to show a Saudi body double wearing Khashoggi's clothes around Istanbul, are increasingly being leaked to US and Turkish media outlets. And Turkish officials are issuing increasingly bold statements implicating Saudi leadership in his death.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to reveal the "naked truth" behind Khashoggi's killing, suggesting that Saudi Arabia's claim on Friday that Khashoggi died in a physical altercation gone wrong was inconsistent.

Omer Celik, the spokesman for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said on Monday that the killing "was planned in an extremely savage manner" and suggested that "there has been a lot of effort to whitewash this," Agence-France Presse reported.

Turkey's continuous leaks and assertions against Saudi Arabia could be a sign that Ankara is trying to use its intelligence to extract some kind of concession from Riyadh.

Experts suspect Turkey's trying to get a deal out of Saudi Arabia

Lisel Hintz, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, told Business Insider that Turkey's latest actions were "indicative of the Turkish government trying to see what price it can extract from the intelligence it has."

"Turkey is trying to, through informal channels" - like leaks to the media and public statements - "let Saudi Arabia know what they have on them, or at least claim that they know so that they can extract some kind of price," she said.

"I don't know what they'd be - defence contracts, construction contracts, an informal payoff - I don't know," Hintz continued. "But given the behaviour and leaking of information through these informal channels, it seems as though [Turkish officials] are trying to let Saudi Arabia know they have something on them and that might be up for sale."

Ceylan Yeginsu, The New York Times' former Turkey correspondent, also suggested that Turkey was trying to secure some kind of deal with Saudi Arabia through its leaks.

Yeginsu tweeted on Monday that the Turks' continuing to leak details about Khashoggi's killing "suggests that they haven't reached a deal with Riyadh."

"They have until tomorrow when Erdogan is expected to reveal all the details of the investigation 'in full nakedness,'" Yeginsu added.

https://twitter.com/CeylanWrites/status/1054320250454507520?ref_src=twsrc^tfw

Since Khashoggi's disappearance on October 2, Ankara has flip-flopped from accusing Riyadh of murder to refusing to blame the Saudi leadership to now suggesting that the kingdom planned the killing and attempted to "whitewash" the entire case.

Neil Quilliam, a senior research fellow with Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa Program, told Business Insider last week that Turkish officials "were prepared to offer the Saudis a way out of the crisis - at least provide them with an off-ramp - but given the Saudi response or lack of it, the authorities continue to share more and more details."

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are vying to be leaders in the region

Mecca Islam worship

Turkey and Saudi Arabia's relationship is tenuous. Both countries are vying to be the leader of the Sunni Muslim world but have different models for what it should look like: Turkey's fuses Islam with liberal democratic elements, while Saudi Arabia's is more conservative and fundamentalist.

Turkey under Erdogan has teamed up with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, two organisations that Saudi Arabia considers to be terrorists.

Ankara also publicly backed Qatar, Saudi Arabia's enemy in the region, when Riyadh and its allies severed diplomatic relations with it in June 2017.

But that's not to say the two countries are archenemies. Turkey,whose currency dramatically collapsed this summer, sees Saudi Arabia as a potential investor in its economy.

Be wary of Turkish leaks

Turkish intelligence, leaked anonymously in US and Turkish media outlets, can't be trusted blindly.

Pro-government Turkish media organisations, such as Daily Sabah and Yeni Safak, have published explosive but unverified claims - including that Khashoggi recorded the moment of his killing on his Apple Watch, a claim that tech experts have questioned.

Both Sabah and Yeni Safak have published fake news in the past,the BBC reported.

Unnamed Turkish officials have also repeatedly claimed to have an audio recording of Khashoggi's last moments, but multiple US and European intelligence officers said they never received it.

US President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of these recordings.

"So far, we've heard about it, but nobody has seen it," he said Saturday, adding that, to his knowledge, that included the FBI and the CIA.

Hintz said she thought US commentators, media outlets, and government officials "have maybe been relying too much" on what Turkish media outlets are saying as being factual "and not critically questioning the fact that the Turkish government has immense incentive to claim they have this information."

She added that pro-government newspapers that have been covering the crisis tend to print whatever the government wants them to.

"It's worth being circumspect about the veracity of these claims," Hintz said. "Ties between the AKP and those newspapers are very close. There's nothing in those papers being printed that's not at least being approved by the government, if not being handed to them" before publication.