Seventeen days after the disappearance of the U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, authorities in Riyadh finally confirmed his death. According to the Saudi version of what happened, Khashoggi died after a fistfight between him and several men at the consulate in Istanbul. Authorities announced the arrest of 18 Saudi nationals, as well as the dismissal of top officials, including an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The gaps in this story are as significant as the announcement itself.
Saudi authorities did not reveal the location of Khashoggi’s body, which lends credence to the narrative attributed to Turkish officials over the past two weeks. Even before Turkish authorities were allowed to search the consulate and the residence of the consul general, they suggested that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate. They reached this conclusion based on video footage that showed Khashoggi entered the building but never came out. In an interview with Bloomberg, the crown prince, widely known as MbS, insisted that Khashoggi left the consulate—but if that were true, the Saudis could have produced a body.
The spontaneous scuffle theory also does not explain the dismissal of the adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, who was perceived as MbS’s right-hand man and thought by some to encourage his worst instincts. Dubbed “the father of electronic flies” by his critics, he’s been accused of using social-media bots and trolls to lead smear campaigns against government opponents, especially in the wake of the Qatar crisis. Al-Qahtani oversaw public-relations efforts abroad, and was known for combative language online. At the time of this writing, his pinned tweet read: “Some brothers blame me for what they view as harshness. But everything has its time, and talk these days requires such language.”