Saudi hitmen were ‘cheerful, drinking alcohol’ after Khashoggi killing: Turkish driver
Some members of the Saudi hit squad who killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul appeared “cheerful” and were drinking alcohol when they were on their way back home, the Turkish driver of the team’s leader said, as Ankara asked Riyadh to extradite the 18 suspects.
Speaking to private broadcaster A Haber on Oct. 26, the Turkish driver said that he was hired to transport members of the hit squad between Istanbul’s airport and their hotels on Oct. 2 hours before and after they killed Khashoggi.
“At 3.20 a.m., nine people landed [at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport], hiring three of our cars. The three people in the car I drove included Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb. They wanted me to take them to their hotel and then be back there at 8.00 a.m. to bring them to the consulate,” the driver said.
The New York Times had reported on Oct. 16 that at least nine of 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries.
Mutreb, the alleged leader of the team, traveled extensively with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the NYT report said.
Reuters reported on. Oct. 23 that Mutreb is a senior intelligence officer, who is part of the security team of Prince Mohammed.
The Turkish driver said Oct. 26 that he returned to the Istanbul hotel in the morning and picked the Saudis including Mutreb to the consulate, where the barricades were opened for the car by the Saudi security forces.
The driver added that he saw three consulate vehicles leaving the building one hour after the group entered, and a black van had “heavily tinted glass."
“I remember seeing Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee in front of the consulate because she waited there for a long time as I did. During that time, the consulate’s security personnel refused to let anyone enter, telling them that there was 'inspection' inside. Khashoggi did not come out and a member of the Saudi group called me after two hours to tell me to go to their hotel,” the driver said.
When he went to the hotel, this time not Mutreb but another three from the Saudi group wanted the driver to take them back to the airport.
“They asked me for a place to eat and I brought them to a döner restaurant. They were very cheerful. They smoked and drank alcohol in the car,” he added.
After a weeks-long denial, Saudi Arabia admitted on Oct. 25 that Khashoggi fell victim to a premeditated killing in the building and said it arrested all members of the 15-men group, as well as three others linked to the murder.
Turkey officially filed an extradition request for the 18 suspects as the whereabouts of the Saudi journalist’s body remained unclear on Oct. 26.