Audio tape of Khashoggi killing has been given to U.S., Saudis, Europeans, Erdogan says

Washington Post

An audio recording tracking the dying moments of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has been shared with Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany in addition to the United States, the leader of Turkey said Saturday.

"We gave it to Saudi Arabia," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the Ankara airport before departing for Paris for commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. "We gave it to America. To the Germans, French, English, we gave it to all of them."

It was the first time that Erdogan has publicly acknowledged the existence of an audio recording that Turkish officials say backs the assertion that Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post World Opinions section, was killed by a 15-member Saudi hit team after he entered the consulate on Oct. 2.

Wider access to the recording could increase pressure on the Trump administration to take stronger measures against Saudi Arabia in response to Khashoggi's killing.

Although Erdogan said he "gave" the tapes to those countries, it was unclear whether he meant that he had physically passed them on.

A senior German official said that the head of the Federal Intelligence Service received a briefing and listened to the audio recording during a trip to Ankara. "The recording was very convincing," the official said.

The White House and Elysee Palace did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The British foreign office said it was "not confirming or denying" Erdogan's comments.

U.S. officials have said that CIA Director Gina Haspel listened to the recording during a trip to Turkey last month.

Two Turkish officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the audio makes clear that Khashoggi suffered a drawn-out death. He is choked for about seven minutes before he dies, they said.

One said he had been told directly by Erdogan that the killers took 7.5 minutes to choke Khashoggi. The other said he had been briefed by someone who had listened to the recording. Neither said they had heard the tape themselves.

Turkey has not said how it obtained a recording from inside the consulate. Wiretapping of foreign missions breaches the Vienna Convention. Turkish newspapers had run stories on how the recording was made by Khashoggi's Apple watch, a scenario that was met with skepticism by experts.

Saudi Arabia now acknowledges that Khashoggi was intentionally killed in the building and says it has arrested 18 people. It also has fired two senior officials close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The crown prince has not been directly implicated by Turkey, but Erdogan has said that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the "highest levels" in Saudi Arabia and that he doesn't think King Salman is responsible.

Erdogan said that he may meet President Donald Trump during his Paris visit. Two Turkish officials said they expected a meeting to take place, with discussion to include U.S.-Turkish relations, Iranian sanctions and the Khashoggi case.

As Turkey has increased pressure on the Saudis through leaks to the news media on the gruesome killing, Saudi Arabia has been forced to shift its story. Saudi officials had initially insisted that the journalist left the consulate alive.

Analysts and Western diplomats say that Erdogan may be using the carefully orchestrated leaks to leverage Turkish interests internationally.

"Erdogan can afford for this crisis to play out in a number of different ways, given the strength of his position," said one Western diplomat who declined to be named, citing protocol. "He has a media infrastructure that works for him, and power is pretty much centralized."

Turkish officials had repeatedly complained about a lack of Saudi cooperation in the investigation, saying that Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor, who visited Istanbul last month, did not share any information.

The Turkish official who said he had been briefed on the tape said the prosecutor had been more interested in finding out what evidence Turkey already had than in offering information. He also asked for the dead journalist's cellphones, the official said.

Erdogan said the Saudi prosecutor was obstructive during his visit. "And then they invite our chief prosecutor there," he said. "The scene of the crime is here."

"The murder or murders are definitely within this 15," he said, referencing 15 members of an alleged hit team identified by Turkish authorities. "The Saudi Arabian administration will succeed in revealing this by making these 15 people talk."

Speaking at an International Peace Institute event in New York on Friday evening, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi's intelligence service and ambassador to Washington and London, rejected calls for an international investigation into the killing. "The kingdom is proud of its legal system," he said. "It will never accept foreign interference in that system."

He said he expects Saudi Arabia to "put all the facts on the table."

"The kingdom wants to show the rest of the world exactly what happened and to go on from there," he said. He said he hoped that would mean an improvement in the conduct of the Saudi security forces and also in the image of the kingdom, "which has been tarnished by this tragic and extraordinarily painful incident in all of our lives."

However, Turkish officials say that they do not trust Saudi Arabia to try the suspects or hold accountable the person responsible for giving the order. They say Saudi Arabia has rejected Turkish requests to extradite the suspects to be tried in Turkey.

"They are not telling the whole truth," said another Turkish official. "There is an important person behind this and they have to explain."

Mekhennet reported from New York. The Washington Post's Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul, and James McAuley and Seung Min Kim in Paris, contributed to this report.

First published on The Washington Post

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