London, Oct 1 (IANS) The Saudi hit squad that killed exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate called him a “sacrificial animal” as they waited for him and the forensic pathologist joked about cutting him up, as per the secret recordings heard by UN investigators, reports said.
Khashoggi had vanished after visiting the Saudi consulate in October last year to get a document necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee. It was later found that he had been drugged and murdered and his body dismembered and spirited away, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused of it. The Saudi government has denied his involvement and called it a rogue operation.
The consulate was, however, bugged by Turkish intelligence and all the planning and the execution were recorded, as per the BBC.
Prominent British barrister Baroness Helena Kennedy, who had joined the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial killing, Agnes Callamard’s team probing the Khashoggi murder, termed the experience of hearing the tapes “chilling”.
“The horror of listening to somebody’s voice, the fear in someone’s voice, and that you’re listening to something live. It makes a shiver go through your body,” she said on the BBC’s Panorama programme on Monday night.
Callamard had managed to convince the Turkish intelligence to let them hear the tapes, and the two women and their Arabic interpreter heard 45 minutes of the tapes, covering the planning, the actual murder and the disposal of the body.
According to Kennedy, the stretch they heard included a spate of calls after Khashoggi’s first visit to the consulate in end-September, with the Consul General, who reported his visit, being told by the head of security at the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs that a top-secret mission was planned.
“There’s no doubt in my mind this was a seriously, highly organised mission coming from the top. This was not some flaky, maverick operation on the side,” she said.
On October 1, three Saudi intelligence officers, including two who worked in the Crown Prince’s office, flew into Istanbul on a reconnaissance mission, as per a former Turkish intelligence officer. A day after, a nine-man squad, including a forensic pathologist, arrived on a private jet.
This, as per Callamard, was the “hit squad”, as per an analysis of their identities and backgrounds.
On October 2, Khashoggi received a call to come to the consulate for his documents and as he was walking towards it with his Turkish fiancee, a shocking phone conversation was taking place inside between a Saudi man, seen in the security detail of Crown Prince Mohammed and was believed to be in charge of the operation, and the forensic pathologist who was telling him about doing autopsies, as both men laughed, Kennedy said.
“He says, ‘I often play music when I’m cutting cadavers. And sometimes I have a coffee and a cigar at hand. It’s the first time in my life, I will have to cut (up) pieces on the ground’,” she recalls him saying.
“‘Even if you are a butcher you hang the animal up to do so.’ They speak about, ‘When is Khashoggi to arrive’, and they say, ‘Has the sacrificial animal arrived?’ That’s how they refer to him,” Kennedy recalled.
As Khashoggi entered the consulate, having handed over his phone to his fiancee outside, he was met by a reception committee, and action against him began, as per the tapes, Kennedy said.
“There was a point where you can hear Khashoggi moving from being a man who’s a confident person, towards a sense of fear — rising anxiety, rising terror — and then knowing that something fatal is about to happen,” she said.
“There’s something absolutely horrifying about the voice changing. The cruelty of it comes across by listening to the tapes,” she said.
Callamard is not sure how aware Khashoggi was of the Saudis’ plans, and believed that he could be abducted. “He is asking, ‘Are you going to give me an injection?’ To which he’s being told ‘Yes’.”
“The sounds that are heard after that point will tend to indicate that he’s suffocated. Probably with a plastic bag over his head,” she said. “His mouth was also closed — violently — may be with a hand or something else.”
Kennedy said the forensic pathologist then took over on the orders of the team leader.
“You hear a voice saying, ‘Let him cut’…
“Then somebody shouting, ‘It’s over,’ and someone else shouting, ‘Take it off, take it off. Put this on his head. Wrap it.’ I can only assume that they had removed his head.”