Prince Mohammed bin Salman distances self from Khashoggi murder as evidence mounts

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The ongoing investigation into the death of Saudi Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey seems to have reached a new climax this Wednesday, after the Saudi crown prince publicly denounced the killing as “heinous.”

At an investor’s briefing in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman called the death of Khashoggi a heinous crime. This comes just days after some of bin Salman’s closest confidants and advisers were accused of complicity in Khashoggi’s death. Bin Salman’s comments are finding fewer and fewer footholds, however, since the investigation into the incident began.

The Khashoggi incident has become the center of international attention in recent days. Turkish investigators began probing Riyadh and the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 15. Saudi officials began by denying any death whatsoever, and that Khashoggi’s subsequent disappearance was mere happenstance.

Doubts were cast upon the Saudi government, however, when the Turkish forensics team related that “certain evidence” had been found that effectively proved Khashoggi had been killed.

On Oct. 18, this news was followed by surveillance footage of a member of bin Salman’s entourage entering the consulate just before Khashoggi was estimated to have disappeared. During Turkey’s second investigative sweep on Oct. 20, Saudi officials eventually acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate.

Their explanation was a fistfight that got out of hand.

Another two days passed with news, but on Oct. 22, Turkish officials released a report that stated one of bin Salman’s aides made a series of calls to bin Salman’s office around the time of Khashoggi’s death. There was also a leak of new surveillance footage that showed a man wearing Khashoggi’s clothing. The man, who remains unidentified, but is suspected to be another member of bin Salman’s entourage, hurriedly left the consulate concurrently to the calls to bin Salman’s office.

On Oct. 23, the investigation continued as President Erdogan of Turkey announced that Saudi officials instigated Khashoggi’s murder, the first official announcement of the sort from Turkey. Erdogan also called for those involved with the murder to be tried on Turkish soil, stating that there should be clear justice for the “savage murder.” Around the same time, Saudi Arabia’s state-run news station announced that the Khashoggi family would be meeting with bin Salman and his father, King Salman, in Riyadh.

After Saudi officials admitted that Khashoggi had been killed, five of bin Salman’s high-ranking cabinet members were dismissed, including the deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service.

Such an action implies that bin Salman’s men, and bin Salman himself, did have some knowledge of the incident, and that by distancing himself from his aides, bin Salman is attempting to save face in the wake of the murder.

If Saudi Arabia is responsible for the assassination charges leveled against them, it makes sense that Khashoggi would be their target. Once a Saudi journalist and editor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Network, Khashoggi became heavily critical of the Saudi government some time before his self-imposed exile in 2017.

This incident, amid Saudi Arabia’s harsh punishments for open talk of dissent in the nation, joking about kidnapping Lebanese Prime Minister, and the much-criticized war with Yemen, is one more scandal in a slew of international controversy regarding the Middle East.

The United States has not remained silent on the matter, either. Amidst President Donald Trump’s insistence that U.S. officials would “get to the bottom of it,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with King Salman and bin Salman.

He noted that Saudi officials vehemently denied any knowledge of the incident. The United States has not made any further interference in the investigation, although President Trump recently stated that Khashoggi’s death was the “worst cover-up ever.”

Investigations are still ongoing, and formal trials have yet to be announced.