The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is not a game of Clue, but it often resembles one. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, in the annex, with a syringe. Or was it Salah al-Tubaigy, in the consul’s office, with a bone saw? About three months have passed since Khashoggi walked into the consulate in Istanbul, and nearly as much time has passed since Saudi Arabia confirmed—after a period of flailing attempts at denial—that its agents had killed him there shortly after he arrived. Souad Mekhennet and Greg Miller, writing in The Washington Post (where Khashoggi was a contributing writer), recently offered further details, purporting to exclude one possibility: that the Saudis killed Khashoggi in a botched rendition, a kidnapping gone wrong. According to their account, and it is the one that has been most widely accepted, the assassins downed Khashoggi with an injection of sedatives and immediately set to work dismembering him and hiding his remains.
The Saudis have ceased offering new versions of their own account of these events. But The Washington Post’s reporting raises many macabre questions:
- Why kill him in the consulate—the one place in Istanbul where Saudi culpability would be undeniable? Istanbul is a big city, and Khashoggi lived there openly and without security. I met up with him in London not long before his assassination, and when we had breakfast, he sat with his back to the street, in an open café. To slay him with a bullet to the head would have been simple, speedy, and deniable. Many other options exist. Consider the lengthy menu of deniable assassination techniques apparently used by Russia in Ukraine, England, and elsewhere.
- Why kill him with sedatives? “The Saudi team brought a syringe packed with enough sedative to be lethal,” according to the Post. Assassins have used many weapons, ranging from firearms to a ricin pellet embedded in the tip of an umbrella. You can guess the advantages of each weapon. A syringe of sedatives is, by any measure, a peculiar choice. Sedatives are not reliable killers, unlike, say, cyanide. But why get pharmacological at all? Evidently the integrity of Khashoggi’s body was not a major concern, so why not just shoot him in the head, strangle him, or stab him in the heart?
- Why deploy a team of more than a dozen easily recognized Saudi operatives? A kill mission, especially one in a location of the assassins’ choice, does not require a team of that size, and indeed is more secure with fewer people. Instead of sending in two jets loaded with security personnel, why not fly in three or four killers on Turkish Airlines, traveling separately and using false identities?