The Khashoggi Body Double—and Mounting Evidence of a Premeditated Murder

The Khashoggi Body Double—and Mounting Evidence of a Premeditated Murder

  23 Oct 2018

The Saudi plot to cover up the murder of Jamal Khashoggi played out swiftly but methodically. Shortly after 11 A.M. on October 2nd, a heavyset man dressed in tennis shoes and a blue-and-white plaid shirt, untucked, walked through the canopied entrance to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He has been identified by Turkish officials as Mustafa al-Madani, reportedly a Saudi intelligence agent who flew to Turkey that day as part of a fifteen-man hit squad. At 1:14 P.M., Khashoggi entered through the same door, which is decorated with the Saudi national symbol—crossed swords and a palm tree. Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who wrote for the Washington Post, was wearing a dark sports coat, a light-gray shirt, and dress shoes.

The shoes were a key giveaway. At 2:52 P.M., Madani walked out of the consulate’s back door in Khashoggi’s clothes—except for the shoes. He was still in his sneakers. The two men were of roughly the same height, weight, and age—in their late fifties. But they apparently did not have the same shoe size. According to Turkish surveillance video, broadcast by CNN on Monday, Madani and an accomplice—who had a hoodie over his head and was carrying a white plastic bag—took a taxi to a crowded mosque and went into a public men’s toilet. When they came out, Madani was back in his blue-and-white shirt, which presumably had been in the white plastic bag, and was still wearing his tennis shoes. Surveillance cameras then caught them tossing the bag, which likely contained Khashoggi’s clothing at that point, into a dumpster. With that, the last trace of the Saudi dissident disappeared.

“Khashoggi’s clothes were probably still warm when Madani put them on,” a senior Turkish official told CNN. In another surveillance photograph leaked by the Turks, Madani and his companion—no longer wearing a hoodie—are shown smiling together in front of an elevator. The evidence in the Khashoggi murder increasingly points to premeditation by the Saudi government. The idea of a rogue operation gone wrong—which is the kingdom’s explanation—no longer seems credible. Before Madani left the consulate in Khashoggi’s clothes, he put on a false beard that resembled Khashoggi’s facial hair. Like the bone saw that the team allegedly carried, a fake beard is a prop that they would presumably have needed to bring with them, especially given how fast the switch played out. “We are facing a situation that has been monstrously planned and later tried to be covered up,” Ömer Çelik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, told Reuters. “It is a complicated murder.”

On Sunday, the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, a former Ambassador to Washington, described Khashoggi’s death as a “tremendous mistake,” which was not commissioned by the government. “The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority,” he told Fox News. “What compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up. That is unacceptable in any government.” He claimed that the kingdom’s leaders still do not know where the journalist’s body is. “We are determined to uncover every stone,” he said. “We are determined to find out all the facts. And we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder.” But the evidence increasingly points to the inner circle around the powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman—and perhaps to the prince himself. Records show that Madani travelled with the crown prince on foreign trips, including to the United States in the spring, the Post reported.

The use of body doubles is not unique to Saudi Arabia. Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, had multiple look-alikes and used them regularly for public appearances. One of the statues of Saddam that was torn down after his ouster, in 2003, turned out to be based on one of his approved impersonators. In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin had at least four body doubles. Felix Dadaev, a dancer and a juggler, claimed that he and others impersonated the former Soviet leader during rallies, motorcades, and media appearances—including once for a decoy flight to the famous summit in Yalta with President Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill—when Stalin believed that he was in danger. Using a body double for Khashoggi might have been an attempt to lend credence to Saudi Arabia’s first (of several) versions of events: that Khashoggi had exited through the back not long after he arrived. The kingdom never released its own video, however, possibly because Turkey got out so far ahead in claiming that the Post columnist had been murdered.

The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is expected to lay out details of Khashoggi’s murder in a speech to parliament on Tuesday—“in full nakedness,” he said on Sunday. But the scope of evidence suggesting premeditation or an official coverup is widening. On Monday, a Turkish television station also aired video that it claimed showed three men burning documents in a drum behind the Saudi consulate on October 3rd, a day after Khashoggi’s murder. The Turkish outlet described the documents as “evidence.” Turkish authorities also cordoned off a parking structure where an abandoned Saudi car, with diplomatic plates, was found. It, too, was believed to have links to the Khashoggi saga.

President Trump has also signalled concern about the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s murder. On Monday, he told reporters, “I am not satisfied with what I’ve heard.” Over the weekend, he told the Washington Post, “Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” and added, “Their stories are all over the place.” Yet the Administration is sticking by the crown prince. “He’s seen as a person who can keep things under check,” Trump told the Post. “I mean that in a positive way.” The crown prince, he said, “truly loves his country.”

The Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, met with the crown prince on Monday, underscoring the Administration’s willingness to maintain ties with him. Just last week, Mnuchin backed out of the kingdom’s Davos in the Desert gathering—an economic conference of major financial, technology, and government figures designed to lure foreign investment for the prince’s Vision 2030 plan to modernize Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry tweeted a picture of the two men. “#CrownPrince meets with the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and stresses the importance of Saudi-US strategic partnership, where it holds an important role in the future in line with the Kingdom’s #Vision2030,” it said. On a previous stop in Jerusalem, Mnuchin told reporters that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia share strategic interests, notably in containing Iran, confronting extremism, and coördinating on energy issues. “We will continue in that relationship, while we also simultaneously want to get to the bottom of what the facts are about the Khashoggi situation, which is obviously a terrible situation,” Mnuchin said after talks with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, was dispatched to Turkey to coördinate on the Khashoggi investigation, Reuters reported late on Monday.

Also on Monday, nearly three weeks after the murder, Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and chief interlocutor with Saudi Arabia, spoke for the first time about the Khashoggi case. (The U.S. still does not have an Ambassador in Riyadh.) “Right now, as an Administration, we’re more in the fact-finding phase,” he said at an event sponsored by CNN, in New York. But, he added, “We have our eyes wide open.” Last year, Kushner convinced the President to make Saudi Arabia the first stop on his first foreign mission. He also helped orchestrate the crown prince’s sweeping U.S. tour in the spring. Kushner has worked closely with the prince on Trump’s attempt to broker a final Arab-Israeli peace plan. At the event in New York, Kushner was asked what he had advised Prince Mohammed after Khashoggi’s disappeared. “Be transparent. The world is watching,” Kushner said. “This is a very serious accusation.”

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