Saudi agents suspected of orchestrating journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death reportedly stripped Khashoggi and had an apparent body double wear his clothes around the city, CNN reported Monday, citing surveillance footage and an unnamed senior Turkish official.
The agent, identified by the official as Mustafa al-Madani, entered the consulate in his own clothes about two hours before Khashoggi arrived on October 2, according to CNN.
Madani was part of a 15-member hit squad dispatched from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the consulate, the Turkish official told CNN.
The surveillance footage forms part of Turkey’s investigation into Khashoggi’s death. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to reveal the “naked truth” about the killing last Tuesday.
Hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate, Madani and another agent left by the consulate’s back door, the footage showed. Madani was wearing Khashoggi’s clothes — a grey shirt and a dark jacket — and had on a fake beard and glasses to look more like the journalist, CNN reported.
Leaving through the back door meant that Madani would have gone unnoticed by Khashoggi’s fiancée, who was waiting at the front entrance for at least 11 hours.
CNN’s source, the Turkish official, said: “Khashoggi’s clothes were probably still warm when Madani put them on.”
Reuters on Sunday also reported that Madani dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to look like the journalist had left the consulate, citing an unnamed senior Saudi official.
The surveillance footage shows Madani and the other agent taking a taxi to Istanbul’s crowded Sultanahmet Square. They then disappeared into a toilet, and when they emerged, Madani was wearing his own clothes again and clutching a plastic bag, which they then throw away.
Turkish officials believe that the bag contained Khashoggi’s clothes, CNN reported.
Why use a body double?
The use of a body double squares with Riyadh’s initial claims that Khashoggi left the consulate the same day he went in, and that it didn’t know where Khashoggi went.
The kingdom has since changed its narrative on Khashoggi’s disappearance, admitting last Friday— 17 days after the incident — that Khashoggi died inside the consulate. Saudi court officials attributed the death to a physical confrontation gone wrong, and claimed that Khashoggi died in a chokehold while being interrogated.
Saudi Arabia has sought to distance its crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, from the killing by blaming the episode on a rogue operation conducted without the Saudi leadership and intelligence services’ knowledge.
On Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said on Fox News that “even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of” Khashoggi’s murder.
“This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had,” he said. “They made a mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate, and they tried to cover up for it.”
But the unnamed Turkish official told CNN that Madani’s presence refutes the Saudis’ claim that they only wanted to interrogate Khashoggi.
“You don’t need a body double for a rendition or an interrogation,” they said. “This was a premeditated murder and the body was moved out of the consulate.”