Latest reports state that the Saudi crown prince’s aid, Saud al-Qahtani, orchestrated journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the consulate in Istanbul via Skype.
Reuters reports that the official was virtually present during the Washinton Post writer's final moments, berating him with insults and directing the operation that a Turkish intelligence source described as a "bungled and botched operation.
The Arab source and the Turkish intelligence source said the audio of the Skype call is now in the possession of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. The sources say he is refusing to release it to the Americans.
Qahtani, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's social media manager, is the fifth official to be implicated and fired in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.
According to his Twitter bio, Qahtani worked as the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones as well as a royal adviser to the chairman, however, the latter was removed earlier this week.
Over the past three years, Qahtani’s position has grown in tandem with the prince and placed him at bin Salman's side throughout his administration. The prince's heavy reliance on Qahtani arouses suspicion into the prince’s true level of involvement.
Last summer, Qahtani tweeted, “Do you think I make decisions without guidance? I am an employee and a faithful executor of the orders of my lord the king and my lord the faithful crown prince.”
A source with ties to the royal court told Reuters, “This episode won’t topple MbS, but it has hit his image which will take a long time to be repaired if it ever does. The king is protecting him.”
Prince Mohammed alleges he had no knowledge of the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death and “certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody”, a Saudi official said on Saturday. Neither officials in Riyadh nor Qahtani could not be reached for further comment.
The Washington Post columnist disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish investigators found that a team of 15 Saudis, with a strong connection to the crown prince, arrived in Turkey the same day Khashoggi disappeared and deemed them to be instrumental in his death.
After weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s death, Saudi Arabia finally admitted Friday that the journalist died in the consulate but provided conflicting reports — one account described him of being killed during a “fistfight”, and another said he died in a chokehold.