Tuesday 19 February 2019

Dead man walking... Saudis say nothing

Turkish newspaper reveals a watch worn by Saudi journalist may have transmitted evidence of his death, writes Daren Butler

Footage: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi walking into the Saudi Consulate on Tuesday, October 2
Footage: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi walking into the Saudi Consulate on Tuesday, October 2

Turkish officials have an audio recording of the alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Apple Watch he wore when he walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul over a week ago, a pro-government Turkish newspaper reported last Saturday.

The new claim published by the Sabah newspaper, through which Turkish security officials have leaked much information about the case, didn't immediately explain how officials there also reportedly have a video of Khashoggi's alleged slaying.

Fear the worst: Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Fear the worst: Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

However, it puts more pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain what happened to Khashoggi, who has written critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after he walked into the consulate on October 2. The kingdom has maintained the allegations against it are "baseless", though an official early yesterday acknowledged for the first time some believe Khashoggi was killed by the kingdom. Authorities recovered the audio from Khashoggi's iPhone and his iCloud account, the newspaper said. The journalist had given his phones to his fiancee before entering the consulate.

However, it was not clear whether data from Khashoggi's watch could have been transmitted to his phone outside, or how investigators could have retrieved it without obtaining the watch themselves.

Technology experts say it is highly unlikely the watch could have recorded actions inside the embassy and uploaded them to an iCloud account. Most models of the watch require that it be within 9-15m of the iPhone that it is paired with to upload data to Apple's iCloud, they said.

Even newer models that can communicate with the cloud directly via wireless require either connection to a nearby Wi-Fi network or a type of cellular connection that is not available in Turkey, the experts say.

Sabah, which cited "reliable sources in a special intelligence department" for its report, said Khashoggi was believed to have turned on the recording feature on the watch before entering the consulate.

The paper said Saudi intelligence agents had realised after he died that the watch was recording and tried to delete the recordings first by incorrectly guessing Khashoggi's PIN on the watch, then later using the journalist's finger. However, Apple Watches do not have a fingerprint ID unlock function like iPhones. The newspaper did not address that in its report.

An Apple Watch can record audio and can sync that later with an iPhone over a Bluetooth connection. The newspaper's account did not elaborate on how the Apple Watch synced that information to both the phone and Khashoggi's iCloud account.

Turkish officials have not answered queries from European journalists about Khashoggi's Apple Watch.

Turkish officials say they believe a 15-member Saudi "assassination squad" killed Khashoggi at the consulate. They've also alleged that they have video of the slaying, but not explained how they have it.

Turkey has yet to publish any evidence of him being slain, though surveillance footage around the consulate shows a convoy of vehicles with diplomatic license plates leaving the Saudi Consulate for the consul's home in Istanbul a little under two hours after Khashoggi's arrival.

Saudi Arabia has said it had nothing to do with Khashoggi's disappearance, without explaining or offering evidence of how the writer left the consulate and disappeared into Istanbul with his fiancee waiting outside. A Saudi-owned satellite news channel has begun referring to the 15-man team as "tourists", without providing evidence to support the claim. It echoes how Russia has described the men who allegedly carried out the Novichok nerve agent poisonings in England in March.

Early yesterday, the State-run Saudi Press Agency published a statement from Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud again denying the kingdom's involvement. This time, however, it acknowledged for the first time that Saudi Arabia was accused of killing Khashoggi.

"What has been circulating about orders to kill are lies and baseless allegations against the government of the kingdom, which is committed to its principles, rules and traditions and is in compliance with international laws and conventions," Prince Abdulaziz said.

Khashoggi's disappearance has put pressure on Donald Trump, who has enjoyed close relations with the Saudis since entering office. Trump promised to personally call Saudi Arabia's King Salman soon about "the terrible situation in Turkey".

"We're going to find out what happened," Trump pledged last Friday.

Separately, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who accompanied him to the Saudi consulate, the State Department said last Friday. No details of the conversation were released.

In an interview last Friday, Khashoggi's fiancee Cengiz said he was not nervous when he entered the consulate to obtain paperwork required for their marriage. "He said, 'See you later my darling,' and went in," she said.

Cengiz also said Turkish authorities had not told her about any recordings and Khashoggi was officially "still missing".

She said investigators were examining his cellphones, which he had left with her.

A delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Turkey last Friday as part of an investigation into the writer's disappearance. In a statement posted on Twitter, the Saudis welcomed the joint effort and said the kingdom was keen "to sustain the security and safety of its citizenry, wherever they might happen to be".

Global business leaders also are reassessing their ties with Saudi Arabia, stoking pressure on the Gulf kingdom to explain what happened to Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who was considered close to the Saudi royal family, had become a critic of the current government and Prince Mohammed, the 33-year-old heir apparent who has shown little tolerance for criticism.

As a contributor to the Washington Post, Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticism of its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving.

Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince, who has also presided over a round-up of activists and businessmen.



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