Just about seven months have passed since Jamal Khashogggi, a former government insider-turned-critic of Saudi Crown Prince MbS, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and disappeared, sparking an international scandal that prompted several governments (though notably not the US) to suspend arm sales and spoiling MbS’s second ‘Davos in the Desert’ as dozens of CEOs and scheduled speakers pulled out.
Considering the intensity of the backlash to Khashoggi’s murder at the hands of a government death squad, something the Saudi kingdom begrudgingly admitted following weeks of denials (though it insisted that the team had only been sent to ‘talk’ to Khashoggi, and that his killing, dismemberment and the destruction of his remains were the work of rogue operatives) it’s a testament to the shoddy attention span of the global public (and their political and business leaders) that the scandal has been so quickly forgotten.
But as the public has moved on to criticize KSA’s mass executions and the brutal proxy war in Yemen, it appears at least one government involved in the Khashoggi affair might be taking advantage of the fact that the spotlight has moved away to seek some brutal retribution.
On Monday, WSJ reported that one of two suspected UAE spies under investigation by the Turkish government for playing some unspecified role in the Khashoggi’s killing – and who were helping Saudi and its allies spy on Arab critics living in Turkey – had been found hanged in his cell at a notorious Turkish prison.
The cause of death was quickly ruled a suicide.
Turkish prosecutors on Monday said wardens had found the suspect, identified as Zaki Y.M. Hassan, hanged inside his solitary cell in Istanbul’s Silivri prison and had ordered an investigation into his death. Turkish state media said Mr. Hassan had died by suicide.
U.A.E. officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Turkish authorities had said they were investigating the two men for a possible connection with the killing of Mr. Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the hands of Saudi Arabian operatives in October.
The alleged U.A.E. spies came to Turkey soon after the Oct. 2 killing, according to state media reports. They were detained on April 15 and have confessed to spying on behalf of the Gulf state, the reports have said.
Turkish state media has said authorities had tailed the two suspects for several months and had evidence that they were collecting intelligence on Arab nationals residing in Turkey and seeking to recruit other operatives to create a larger surveillance network.
it’s possible that Hassan’s death may have been a suicide. But the tensions between Turkey and members of the GCC who have kept up a shipping ban against Qatar (as the UAE has) have only intensified in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder. Turkey is a close ally of Qatar.
Meanwhile, the Saudi government has pressured the children of Khashoggi to grant clemency to 11 men who are potentially facing the death penalty for their alleged role in the killing (they were scapegoated as the kingdom continued to deny MbS’s involvement in the plot, despite a stream of leaks out of the US intelligence community pointing the finger at the Crown Prince). On another front, Erdogan’s government has continued to provoke the US by arresting yet another consular employee (all have been Turkish nationals).
If this was an act of retribution, does that mean there could be more to come? And what would that mean for Turkey’s increasingly shaky economy?