It's been a year now since the brutal murder of Washington Post contributor and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, hacked to pieces by a bonesaw in the depths of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, lured by the promise of finally being able to make the marriage to the woman he loved official. Evan Ratliff at Insider reconstructs Khashoggi's final days and why he was literally butchered by a ruthless Saudi prince and abandoned by the worst leader in US history.
It was easy to forget, later, that he was a man in love.
That was the Jamal Khashoggi who arrived on a flight into Istanbul, early on the morning of October 2, 2018. He was a few days short of 60 and divorced, a voluntary exile from his native Saudi Arabia living a lonely existence in Virginia. His tall frame carried an unsubtle paunch, and his hair had thinned out to the sides. The graying of his beard was nearly complete, covering an owlish face with eyes that could simultaneously betray easy mirth and deep sadness.
An internationally acclaimed journalist writing for The Washington Post, he was considered brilliant by his peers. But he spent most of his days struggling under the burden of what he'd left behind, writing in hopes of breaking the world's indifference to the creeping repression in his home country. He'd grown dismayed to see its architect, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman — known in the West as MBS — fêted by Washington and Silicon Valley as a dynamic reformer, while his friends and colleagues back home languished in prison for speaking out. His mission, he had come to believe, was to speak for them.
But on that fall morning in Istanbul, Khashoggi stepped off the plane with an entirely different purpose. Five months earlier, at the opening of a conference on Middle Eastern politics, he'd been approached by a 35-year-old researcher named Hatice Cengiz. She knew his work and wanted to interview him for an article she was writing. At the next coffee break, he sought her out. They spoke for nearly half an hour. She asked him about the prospects for reform in Saudi Arabia; he peppered her with questions about Turkish politics. By the end, their exchange had already begun to feel like something deeper. Before his next trip to Istanbul, he emailed to ask if she'd see him again.
The rest happened quickly, at the speed of two people who already knew themselves. By September he had met her parents. Wedding plans were in motion. The pair bought an apartment in Istanbul, the eastern anchor of what would become a dual life there and in the US.
On September 28 they visited Istanbul's civil-marriage bureau to begin the secular portion of the nuptials. Just one small problem, they were told: Because Khashoggi remained a Saudi citizen, they'd need a certificate from the Saudi government stating that he was unmarried. That would require a trip to the Saudi Consulate.
On an impulse, the couple went straight there that day. Outside the gate, Khashoggi left his two phones with Cengiz, knowing consular officials would ask for them at the door and fearing they would take the opportunity to hack them. He was wary. But once inside, the staff greeted him warmly. The document he needed couldn't be produced instantly, but if he came back on October 2 they would have it ready for him, they said. That afternoon, he left for the airport and caught a 2:40 p.m. flight to London to attend a conference.
The night before his return, Cengiz couldn't sleep, her head a scramble of nerves and excitement. Finally she drifted off, and was awoken by a call from her fiancé: His flight had arrived early. Khashoggi caught a cab to the as-yet-uninhabited apartment they'd purchased, in a gated community in Istanbul's Topkapi neighborhood. A security camera in the entryway caught them lightly embracing as they walked inside, just before 5 a.m.
Khashoggi called the consulate. An official told him to arrive at 1 p.m. to collect his paperwork.
At about a quarter to one, they set out. CCTV cameras captured the couple's unhurried stroll as they walked, hand in hand. Khashoggi wore an open-collared shirt and a blazer, Cengiz a headscarf and a long black dress.
At the security blockade typically positioned at the consulate's south-facing side, Khashoggi once again handed her both his phones. Using a handheld metal detector, a security officer conducted a quick scan of Khashoggi's person. Then the journalist passed between the metal barriers and walked briskly up to the main entrance. A doorman in a powder-blue blazer greeted him with a slight bow, and he was gone.
The rest, as they say, is now just another bloody chapter in the ugly history of the House of Saud, a blot on this Earth and one of the most repressive and murderous regimes on the planet.
Right next to the repressive and murderous regime here in the States, of course. These days we're sending thousands of troops to Saudi soil as mercenaries because Donald Trump expects MBS to pay up front.
Never forget Khashoggi's story, however.