Turkish prosecutors have prepared an extradition request for 18 suspects from Saudi Arabia in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, authorities said on Friday, after President Tayyip Erdogan urged Riyadh to disclose who ordered the murder.
In a television interview Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, revealed she did not accept an invitation from US president Donald Trump because she thought it was aimed at influencing public opinion in his own favor.
Erdogan has in recent days stepped up pressure on Saudi Arabia to come clean in the case, and Western governments have also voiced increasing skepticism, pitching the world’s top oil exporter and a pivotal Middle East ally into a worsening crisis.
Erdogan said Turkey had more information than it had shared so far about the killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi national and Washington Post columnist who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd.
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Thursday said the killing of Khashoggi was premeditated, contradicting a previous official statement that it happened accidentally during a tussle in the consulate. Riyadh’s numerous shifting accounts of the killing have undermined Prince Mohammed’s standing in the West.
“The reasoning behind the extradition request is that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Turkey by Saudi nationals who travelled to Turkey for this specific purpose,” a senior Turkish official said.
Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, said she did not accept an invitation from US president Donald Trump, the kingdom’s staunchest Western champion, to visit the White House after Khashoggi’s murder because she thought it was aimed at influencing public opinion in his own favor.
In her first television interview since the killing, Ms Cengiz recounted the events leading up to their visit to the consulate on October 2nd where Khashoggi handed her his two mobile phones and went inside while she waited outside for him to emerge.
“Trump invited me to the United States but I perceived it as a statement to win public favor,” Ms Cengiz told broadcaster Haberturk, pausing at times during an interview and more than once breaking down in tears.
Mr Trump and Prince Mohammed have cultivated warm ties though the US president said earlier this week that the crown prince, as the kingdom’s de facto ruler, bore ultimate responsibility for the operation against Khashoggi. Trump also said Riyadh had staged the “worst cover-up ever” over the killing.
Ms Cengiz said Khashoggi was concerned tensions would arise when he visited the consulate for the first time on September 28th, but he was treated well at that visit, which appeared to reassure him, she said.
“He thought Turkey is a safe country and if he would be held or interrogated, this issue would be swiftly solved,” she said.
How Western allies deal with Riyadh will hinge on the extent to which they believe responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lies directly with Prince Mohammed and the Saudi authorities.