Why Turkish officials keep challenging Saudi Arabia's claims behind the Khashoggi killing

Why Turkish officials keep challenging Saudi Arabia's claims behind the Khashoggi killing

mbs khashoggi erdogan

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

Turkey may have an ulterior motive behind its continuous intelligence leaks about journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing. Here, a composite image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Khashoggi, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

  • Turkish officials have continuously leaked intelligence reports about journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing to US and Turkish media as Saudi Arabia tries to absolve its leadership from it.
  • Many senior officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are also issuing increasingly bold accusations directly implicating the Saudi leadership in Khashoggi's death.
  • Experts say this shows that Turkey is trying to extract some kind of concession from Saudi Arabia, which could come in the form of new contracts or an informal payment.
  • Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a fraught relationship, and are both vying to be leaders in the region.

As Saudi Arabia attempts to distance itself from the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey has challenged Riyadh's version of events at every turn.

Intelligence reports, such as surveillance footage showing a Saudi body double wearing Khashoggi's clothes around Istanbul, are being leaked to US and Turkish media outlets at an increasing pace. Turkish officials are also issuing increasingly bold accusations directly implicating Saudi leadership in the killing.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to reveal the "naked truth" behind Khashoggi's killing, suggesting that the Saudi claims last Friday that Khashoggi died of a physical altercation gone wrong was inconsistent.

Omer Celik, the spokesman of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), also claimed on Monday that the killing "was planned in an extremely savage manner," and suggested that "there has been a lot of effort to whitewash this," Agence-France Presse reported.


Turkey's continuous leaks and assertions against Saudi Arabia could be a sign that Ankara is trying to use its intelligence to extract some kind of concession fom Riyadh.

Experts suspect Turkey's trying to get a deal out of Saudi Arabia

Mohammed bin Salman


Turkey may be trying to extract something from Saudi Arabia through its leaks and increasingly bold statements against the Saudi leadership. Crown Prince Mohammed in March 2018.

Lisel Hintz, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, told Business Insider that Turkey's latest actions were "indicative of the Turkish government trying to see what price it can extract from the intelligence it has."

"Turkey is trying to, through informal channels [like leaks to the media and public statements], let Saudi Arabia know what they have on them or at least claim that they know so that they can extract some kind of price," she said.

"I don't know what they'd be - defense contracts, construction contracts, and informal payoff - I don't know," Hintz continued. "But given the behavior and leaking of information through these informal channels, it seems as though they [Turkish officials] are trying to let Saudi Arabia know they have something on them, and that might be up for sale."


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.

Ceylan Yeginsu, The New York Times' former Turkey correspondent, also suggested that Turkey was trying to secure some kind of deal with Saudi Arabia through its leaks.

Yeginsu tweeted on Monday: "The fact that the Turks are contining [sic] to leak details about [Khashoggi's] killing suggests that they haven't reached a deal with Riyadh.

"They have until tomorrow when Erdogan is expected to reveal all the details of the investigation 'in full nakedness.'"

Since Khashoggi's disappearance, Ankara has flip-flopped from accusing Riyadh of murder, to refusing to blame the Saudi leadership, to now suggesting that the kingdom planned the murder and attempted to "whitewash" the entire case.


Neil Quilliam, a senior research fellow with Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa program, told Business Insider last week that Turkish officials "were prepared to offer the Saudis a way out of the crisis - at least provide them with an off-ramp - but given the Saudi response or lack of it, the authorities continue to share more and more details."

Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are vying to be leaders in the region

Mecca Islam worship


Turkey and Saudi Arabia are both vying to be the leader of the Sunni Muslim world. Here, pilgrims at Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia's relationship is a tenuous one. Both countries are vying to be the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, but have different models of what it should look like: Turkey's model fuses Islam with liberal democratic elements, while Saudi's version is more conservative and fundamentalist.

Turkey under Erdogan has teamed up with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, two organizations that Saudi Arabia considers to be terrorists.

Ankara also publicly backed Qatar, Saudi's enemy in the region, when Riyadh and its allies severed diplomatic relations with it in June 2017.


That's not to say the two countries are arch enemies, however. Turkey, whose currency dramatically collapsed this summer, sees Saudi as a potential investor in its economy.

Be wary of Turkish leaks

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the sixth Congress of the ruling AK Party (AKP) in Ankara, Turkey, August 18, 2018.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in August 2018.

Turkish intelligence, leaked anonymously in US and Turkish media, can't be blindly trusted.

State-run Turkish media organizations, such as Daily Sabah and Yeni Safak, have published explosive but unverified claims - including those that Khashoggi recorded the moment of his killing on his Apple Watch. (Tech experts have since questioned that claim.)

Both Sabah and Yeni Safak have published fake news in the past, the BBC reported.


Unnamed Turkish officials have also repeatedly claimed to have an audio recording of Khashoggi's last moments, but multiple US and European intelligence officers said they never received it.

US President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of these recordings. "So far, we've heard about it, but nobody has seen it," he said Saturday, adding that included the FBI and CIA to his knowledge.

Hintz said: "I think that US commentators, media, and government have maybe been relying too much what they [Turkish state media] are sharing is fact and not critically questioning the fact that the Turkish government has immense incentive to claim they have this information."

She added that pro-government newspapers that have been covering the crisis tend to print whatever the government wants them to print.

"It's worth being circumspect about the veracity of these claims," Hintz said. "Ties between the AKP and those newspapers are very close. There's nothing in those papers being printed that's not at least being approved by the government, if not being handed to them" before publication.