Saudi Arabia takes a page out of Putin's playbook with a baffling response to Khashoggi disappearance

mbs khashoggi erdogan

Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters; Middle East Monitor via Reuters; Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has continuously denied knowledge of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi's whereabouts. Here, a composite image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Khashoggi.

  • Earlier this week Turkish media identified 15 men suspected in the disappearance of Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he visited his country's Istanbul consulate last week.
  • The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV channel aired a segment on Thursday claiming that the 15 men were random tourists.
  • After Britain accused two Russian agents of poisoning a man in England earlier this year, the two men appeared on Russian TV claiming to be tourists going to visit the country's famous cathedral.

Saudi Arabia appears to have taken a page out of Vladimir Putin's playbook with a baffling response to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi critic and journalist who went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week.

The investigation into Khashoggi's wellbeing has been highly confusing, with US and Turkish intelligence leaks, the Turkish government constantly changing its official line, and little more than expressions of concern from other world leaders.Advertisement

They arrived at Istanbul's Ataturk airport on October 2, the day Khashoggi disappeared, and left the country later that night, Sabah reported, citing photos it said were taken at passport control.

The team traveled on two corporate jets rented from a company often used by the Saudi government, The Guardian reported, citing unnamed Turkish authorities.

But on Thursday, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV network aired a segment alleging that the media reports "falsely accused" those 15 men as suspects in the Khashoggi case, saying instead that they were "Saudi tourists."

"Unlike what reports said about them arriving in a private jet, the tourists are shown to be in a terminal gate waiting area in an airport crowded with travelers," the network said.Advertisement

Watch the segment below:

This form of denial from the Saudi network appears to be taken from Russia's playbook.

Shortly after Britain accused two Russian men of traveling to England to poison a former Russian spy with nerve agent earlier this year, the two suspects appeared on national TV, claiming to be tourists going to visit the country's "famous cathedral."Advertisement

Both men have since been identified as highly-decorated members of Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, highlighted the link, tweeting in response to Al Arabiya's segment: "Oh good God. Saudi is pulling a Putin.

"I heard Istanbul is particularly famous for the 210 foot minaret at Sultan Ahmet. But the weather was bad, so they missed it and came home," Lister added, riffing on the Russians' claims earlier this year.Advertisement

jamal khashoggi enter saudi embassy

CCTV/Hurriyet via AP

Surveillance footage published by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet purports to show Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have repeatedly denied knowledge of Khashoggi's whereabouts, and insisted that the 59-year-old journalist left the consulate shortly after he went in.

Khashoggi's fiancée said she waited outside the premises for 11 hours and never saw him.Advertisement