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Saudis sent clean-up team to Istanbul after Khashoggi killing to erase evidence: Official

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The photo purportedly shows two Saudi chemicals experts, who allegedly came to Turkey on October 11 to clean up the evidence of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing in Saudi consulate in Istanbul. (Photo by Sabah daily)

Saudi authorities have sent a two-man “clean-up” team to Turkey nine days after dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Arab kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in an attempt to get rid of his body and hide the evidence, Turkish official says.

“We believe that the two individuals came to Turkey for the sole purpose of covering up evidence of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder before the Turkish police were allowed to search the premises,” Reuters quoted an unnamed senior Turkish official as saying on Monday.

The official confirmed the news the first published in the Turkish-language Sabah newspaper, which identified the men as chemicals expert Ahmad Abdulaziz al-Janobi and toxicology expert Khaled Yahya al-Zahrani, tasked with erasing evidence before Turkish investigators were given access to the Saudi consulate and consul’s residence.

The pro-government daily further said that the experts came to Turkey as part of an 11-person team sent from Riyadh on October 11 to carry out the inspections with Turkish officials, adding that the pair visited the consulate on a daily basis until October 17, when they flew back to Saudi Arabia.

“The fact that a clean-up team was dispatched from Saudi Arabia nine days after the murder suggests that Khashoggi’s slaying was within the knowledge of top Saudi officials,” the official added.

Khashoggi, 59, an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 2017, when Saudi authorities launched a massive crackdown on dissent.

He was seeking to secure documentation for his forthcoming marriage when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, but never came out despite Riyadh’s initial claim that he exited the mission less than an hour after completing his paperwork.

The kingdom, however, later admitted that the journo had been murdered in the consulate during an interrogation by rouge operatives that had gone wrong after diplomatic pressure grew tremendously on Riyadh to give an account on the mysterious fate of its national. However, Saudi Arabia said that it did not know the whereabouts of the journo’s body, which is widely believed to be dismembered or dissolved in acid, or both.

In an unexpected statement last month, Saudi Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb admitted that the journo had been killed in a “premeditated” attack in the consulate.

Late last month, Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Irfan Fidan also said in a statement that ill-fated Khashoggi was strangled upon his arrival in the Saudi diplomatic mission in Istanbul, and then his body was dismembered and destroyed in a premeditated murder.

The remarks bolstered Turkish investigators’ line of thought that the journo’s remains could have been disposed of at the nearby consul general’s house, dissolved in acid or dumped in a well on the property.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that the order to slay Khashoggi had been issued from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government, while he stressed that he did “not believe for a second” that Saudi King Salman had ordered such a gruesome crime.

Turkish media have pointed the finger at the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with analysts saying that the Turkish government is keen to have the ambitious heir sidelined from the nexus of power in the Arab kingdom.

However, the Turkish president has yet to directly accuse the young crown prince, who has already condemned the murder as “a repulsive incident.”

Turkish authorities believe that a 15-person “hit squad” was sent from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul to kill the journo.

Turkey's Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Thursday that Ankara wanted Riyadh to reveal who gave the orders for the so-called squad. “Our expectation is for these questions to be answered swiftly,” Gul stressed at the time.

Saudi Arabia has said that it had arrested 18 suspects over the case, but has rejected Ankara’s request for sharing their testimonies.

Riyadh’s conflicting accounts of the journo’s killing have prompted global outcry against the world’s top oil exporter, turning over the young crown prince’s international image as a reformer.

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