ISTANBUL – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wrote in the Washington Post on Friday, said the order to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi "came from the highest levels of the Saudi government" and "certain Saudi officials" tried to cover up the crime.
"Our longstanding friendship with Riyadh does not mean we have to turn a blind eye to the premeditated murder that took place before our eyes," Erdogan wrote in an article for the Post's Global Opinions Department. He concluded in part with the words: "We must reveal the identity of the puppet masters behind Khashoggi's murder."
He has not named any of the officials he believes are covering up the murder, nor has he put forward any new evidence of Saudi Arabia's high-level involvement.
His comments, which coincided with the one-month mark since the assassination of Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, have been Erdogan's most direct attack on the Saudi government and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. With other Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, joining Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, Turkey has relentlessly demanded answers from the Saudi government. In light of these demands, Riyadh has issued various reports on how Khashoggi was killed.
This Turkish campaign has prompted speculation as to whether Erdogan intends to disable Muhammad, whose regional policy is to conflict with Turkey's interests and personally denounce Erdogan.
While the Turkish leader did not involve Muhammad in the murder, he did not mention the Crown Prince by name – not even when he released Muhammad's father, King Salman, from all responsibility.
"I do not believe for a moment that King Salman, the guardian of the holy mosques, ordered the order on Khashoggi," Erdogan wrote. "Therefore, I have no reason to believe that his murder reflected the official policy of Saudi Arabia."
Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that Khashoggi, a post columnist, was killed by Saudi Arabian agents inside the consulate but insisted that they act outside state authority. The Saudi authorities arrested 18 people and released five officials, including two of Mohammed's top aides, the government said. Which connection, if any, had the couple had Khashoggi's death?
The Turkish prosecutor said this week that the Saudi agents strangled Khashoggi almost immediately after he entered the consulate on October 2, and then dismembered his body. Turkey has not publicly presented evidence of its allegations, such as an audio recording that was arrested by Turkish authorities as killing Khashoggi.
"We shared the evidence with our friends and allies, including the United States," Erdogan wrote Friday.
The Erdogan government has demanded the extradition of the 18 suspects, and in recent days has accused Saudi authorities of obstructing the investigation by holding back important evidence, including the location of Khashoggi's body. Erdogan also wrote that it was "deeply worrying" that the Saudis had not acted against Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul general in Istanbul, who left Turkey two weeks after Khashoggi's death.
Recent Turkish allegations took place when Saudi Arabia was backed by an unlikely ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described the killing of Khashoggi as "horrible" on Friday, but warned against a reaction that would compromise the political status quo in Riyadh would destabilize.
Israel had publicly kept silent about Khashoggi's death during the global firestorm, although western authorities said behind the scenes of the Trump administration that Saudi Arabia was an important strategic partner in a region where US politics is fighting Iran ,
"What happened at the Istanbul Consulate was horrible and should be treated properly," said Netanyahu in Varna, Bulgaria. "At the same time I say it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world that Saudi Arabia remains stable."
"I think a way must be found to achieve both goals," he said, "because the bigger problem is Iran and we need to make sure that Iran does not continue the malicious activities."
Netanyahu has also taken note of Israel's improving relations with Saudi Arabia and with several other Arab countries in recent months. Sometimes this refers to what he sees as a common strategic threat from Iran. on another occasion he mentioned it in the wider context of a regional peace plan that would bypass the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's comments were quickly praised by Khalid bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, a strong ally of Saudi Arabia.
In a message posted on Twitter, Khalid said the Israeli PM had "a clear vision of the region's stability and the role of Saudi Arabia in maintaining that stability."
Analysts suggested that Netanyahu had decided to publicly support Saudi Arabia and Mohammed in order to promote a sense of indebtedness in the future.
"Netanyahu also sees the opportunity here to earn points with bin Salman if he remains in power and Saudi Arabia continues to govern," said Ofer Zalzberg, senior analyst of the International Crisis Group on Israeli-Palestinian issues. Such public support of the Crown Prince in a sensitive political moment could have "significant potential gains across the board," Zalzberg said.
Elsewhere, Khashoggi's case continued. Norway said it had called its Saudi ambassador.
"We raised the issue of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and informed the Saudi ambassador several times after he became known about our position," said Ine Eriksen, the Norwegian foreign minister, in a statement. "We emphasized how seriously we take this problem."
Human rights groups Likewise have escalated calls for action against the Saudi Arabian government, citing the deterrent that Khashoggi's killing would have on rights defenders around the world.
In a letter to US Secretary General António Guterres, signed by more than 100 writers, journalists, artists and activists, he urged Guterres to "immediately allow an independent, international investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and the murder."
"If it were true, the murder of a journalist in a diplomatic institution would be nothing less than a state terrorist act that intimidated journalists, dissidents, and exiled critics around the world," said PEN America, who distributed the letter.
Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.