Khashoggi murder trial told oven was lit after killing

Hatice Cengiz, a fiancee of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, leaves the Justice Palace after attending a trial on the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian Consulate, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 3, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

A Saudi consulate worker in Istanbul told a Turkish court on Friday he had been asked to light a tandoor oven less than an hour after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the building where he was killed.

Zeki Demir, a local technician who worked for the consulate, was giving evidence on the first day of the trial in absentia of 20 Saudi officials over Khashoggi’s killing, which sparked global outrage and tarnished the image of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

Demir said he had been called to the consul’s residence after Khashoggi entered the nearby consulate to seek his papers.

“There were five to six people there… They asked me to light up the tandoor (oven). There was an air of panic,” he said.

Khashoggi disappeared after going to the consulate to get papers for his marriage in October 2018. Some Western governments, as well as the CIA, said they believed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the hit – an accusation Saudi officials denied.

Turkish officials have said one theory police pursued was that Khashoggi’s killers may have tried to dispose of his body by burning it after suffocating him and cutting up his corpse.

The indictment accuses two top Saudi officials, former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, of instigating “premeditated murder with monstrous intent”.

It says 18 other defendants were flown to Turkey to kill Khashoggi, a prominent and well-connected journalist who had grown increasingly critical of the crown prince.

The defendants are being tried in absentia and are unlikely ever to be handed over by Saudi Arabia, which has accused Turkey of failing to cooperate with a separate, largely secretive, trial in Riyadh last year.

In December a Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three to jail for the killing, but Khashoggi’s family later said they forgave his murderers, effectively granting them a formal reprieve under Saudi law.

A Saudi prosecutor said at the time there was no evidence connecting Qahtani to the killing and dismissed charges against Asiri.