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Khashoggi Case Intensifies Strained Turkish-Saudi Relations


And we have news tonight on Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia has confirmed on state TV that he is dead. Khashoggi had been missing since October 2. That's when he was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul 17 days ago. Multiple news reports had pointed to his likely death, but this marks the first official confirmation. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins me now from Istanbul. Hi, Peter.


KELLY: What details do we have from this Saudi announcement?

KENYON: Very few details. The Saudi Press Agency is saying 18 people have been arrested. The investigation is ongoing. But as you mentioned, there is the first official confirmation from Riyadh that Jamal Khashoggi is dead. He was last seen going into the Saudi consulate here in Istanbul on October 2. And according to the Saudi Press Agency, after he entered the consulate, there was a fight, a dispute, that broke out, and that led to his death. We don't know any more details than that right now.

KELLY: Saudi TV is reporting - you mentioned 18 Saudi nationals arrested. And among them, they also mention a general and a royal court adviser who've been sacked from their positions. Do we know who these people are or any details about them?

KENYON: Well, Major General Ahmed al-Assiri was first mentioned, to my knowledge, in a New York Times report this morning that talked about him as someone who might be being lined up to take the blame for this. A lot of questions have been pointing of course at the royal family, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the man who is in pretty much total control of Saudi Arabia. And many folks have been saying that this probably could not have happened without his knowledge and possibly without his order. But at this point, the Saudis are saying that this intelligence officer and adviser to Salman has been sacked and also Saud Qahtani, who's an adviser to the royal court.

KELLY: So possibly a strategy to put some scapegoats out there. And the questions remain in terms of who was giving the orders for this operation. Let me ask you this, Peter. What do we know about timing? Why put this out in the middle of the night there from Saudi Arabia?

KENYON: I can't answer that, really. There have been accelerating investigations certainly, and the pressure has been growing. After initially being rather cool to the whole idea, President Trump has been saying there will be severe punishment if the Saudis are found to have been behind this. And it seems as if there is a move in Riyadh now to move ahead with this and not continue with their initial statement which seemed to be more and more untenable. Their initial denials...

KELLY: I was just going to say. I mean, did the Saudi statement tonight explain in any way how what they are saying now is completely different from what they were saying two weeks ago?

KENYON: That's not explained. But it is completely different. The original explanation has been he walked into the consulate. He needed some paperwork. He walked out within an hour, and we don't know what happened to him. That has been the official, on-the-record position ever since this happened on October 2.

And we have seen this investigation move forward, poking more and more potential holes in that story and making it look less and less tenable. And now, very late at night, the Saudis have come out with an official statement admitting, yes, he's dead. We have these people under arrest. And we'll just have to see where it goes from here.

KELLY: And I know it's late where you are as well. But any reaction from Turkey, from Turkish officials, to this Saudi announcement? Turkish officials had, of course, been working with the Saudis. This was kind of a joint investigation that they'd been pursuing.

KENYON: No reaction yet. Yes, some eyebrows had been raised when they decided to investigate this jointly with the Saudis. They've been in on every search. But we'll have to wait and see what the reaction is.

KELLY: All right. That is Peter Kenyon, getting us up to speed from Istanbul. Thank you very much, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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