Riyadh keeps denying that Saudi leadership was involved in the killing, while new findings keep emerging amid Turkish pressure and international outcry.
When dissident Saudi journalist Khashoggi’s killing in October created an immense pressure on Riyadh, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly couldn’t fathom with the subsequent global outrage and diplomatic crisis.
About three months later, new evidence that keeps emerging from Turkey shows that the case is nowhere close to get the crown prince, also known as MBS, off the hook.
On December 30, a new video emerged on Turkish media showing a Saudi hit team carrying bags which are believed to contain body pieces of the slain journalist. On the same day, a book, "Diplomatic Atrocity: The dark secrets of the Khashoggi murder," written by two journalists for Daily Sabah revealed new details about the killing.
The new details about the killing were part of the findings that surfaced weeks after Khashoggi went missing from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, eventually confirming the murder of the journalist on October 2, the day he had entered the venue.
A surveillance footage of a 15-men squad entering the consulate and leaving it turned out to be a strong lead for Turkish investigators, which also suggested Kashoggi's disappearance from the consulate was part of some bigger conspiracy hatched in the power circles of Saudi kingdom.
Soon after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted that the killing was ordered by the “highest level” of Saudi leadership -- a suggestion that was later confirmed by the US intelligence agency CIA. The assessment by the agency concluded that the crown prince ordered the assassination.
Saudi Arabia found itself at a position from where it was difficult to convince the world that Khashoggi's mysterious disappearance wasn't planned in the kingdom.
The new United Nations human rights chief told Al Jazeera in early December that it’s time for the UN to investigate Khashoggi’s death.
Never ending pressure
The latest revelations came shortly after Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced a cabinet reshuffle amid international scrutiny over the journalist’ killing. Appointing new ministers and security chiefs, King Salman demoted foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, who was the main figure fielding questions regarding Saudi Arabia’s role in the incident.
Denying the leadership’s involvement in the killing since day one, Riyadh fired five top officials and arrested 18 Saudis as a result of the initial investigation in October. The arrests and firings were widely perceived as an attempt to ease the tensions.
But while the pressure kept mounting on Saudi Arabia, Trump stood by the MBS, brushing aside the CIA assessment, the US senate's pleas and the NATO ally Turkey's watertight evidence.
"He's the leader of Saudi Arabia. They've been a very good ally," Mr Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.
His demotion along other changes in the cabinet has been commented on being a signal of that Khashoggi affair didn’t cause King Salman to cut his MBS down to size. Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at Rand Corporation said in a tweet that, instead, the reshuffle suggested “public messaging of ‘rehabilitation.’”
But the latest video and the book revealing wrenching details about the killing one more time reminded that the case is not yet forgotten.
Senate plea over the killing vs Trump’s support to MBS
On December 30, the day of that the new video and the book revealed new details about the killing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that Trump has ordered a slowdown to the withdrawal of US forces in Syria.
Trump later in December announced that the US forces would withdraw from Syria, where Turkey was getting prepared for a military operation in its north.
In years long negotiations with the US, Turkey complained about Washington’s collaboration with PKK’s Syrian branch YPG in its fight against Daesh in Syria -- a security concern for Ankara. Both the US and Turkey lists PKK as a terror organization.
After the withdrawal decision, Trump reminded that Saudi Arabia will pay for the reconstruction of the country instead of the US. Trump’s reminder about the Saudi role in Syria, according to the experts, was revealing a plan for the ‘ultimate role’ the US has planned for Gulf states in the region.
Riyadh has been a strategic partner to the US in the Middle East, especially after Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May, where they galvanised power against Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional foe together with other Gulf countries.
Turkey, however, both pressuring the US about the Saudis role in the killing and discussing military withdrawal with Trump at the same time, has been saying that it won’t allow a cover-up in Khashoggi’s killing. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on On December 24 that Turkey is working with other countries to carry the investigation into the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi to the United Nations.
The US lawmakers have been asking president Donald Trump to take action against Saudi Arabia, especially after the CIA findings.
In a newly published book on Khashoggi’s killing, the author says the CIA chief Gina Haspel became emotional after hearing the recording of the murder spot, which was translated to her from Arabic to English.