Missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have recorded his own death, a Turkish newspaper reported Saturday morning.
Khashoggi turned on the recording function of his Apple Watch before walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, according to Sabah newspaper.
The moments of his “interrogation, torture and killing were audio recorded and sent to both his phone and to iCloud,” the pro-government, privately owned newspaper paper reported. The Turkish newspaper said conversations of the men involved in the reported assassination were recorded.
Security forces leading the investigation found the audio file inside the phone Khashoggi left with his fiancé, according to Sabah.
Upon noticing the watch, Sabah reports, Khashoggi’s assailants tried to unlock the Apple Watch with multiple password attempts, ultimately using Khashoggi’s fingerprint to unlock the smart watch. They were successful in deleting only some of the files, Sabah reported.
However, on its website, Apple does not list fingerprint verification as one of the Apple Watch’s capabilities. A representative from the company confirmed to CNN the watches do not have the feature.
It was not immediately clear whether it would have been technically feasible for Khashoggi’s Apple Watch to transfer audio to his phone, which he had given to his fiancée before entering the consulate.
CNN cannot independently verify the Sabah report and is seeking comment from both Saudi and Turkish officials.
CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer cast doubt on the claim, saying it was too far for a Bluetooth connection and that Khashoggi was unlikely to have anticipated transmitting a recording in advance. “I think what’s happened, clearly, is the Turks have the Saudi consulate wired, they have transmitters,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“The Turks don’t trust any diplomats and they have been into most embassies and most consulates in Turkey and they listen to what’s going on – and if indeed there are tapes proving that he was murdered, I think that’s probably how they know. But the Turks are very reluctant to admit that.”
Saudi Arabia firmly denies any involvement in his disappearance and says he left the consulate that afternoon. His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate, says she did not see him re-emerge. Turkey has called on Saudi officials to provide evidence that he left the consulate, as they claim.
Saudi minister: Reports are “lies”
Saudi Arabia Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz said reports that the Saudi government ordered the killing of Khashoggi are “lies and baseless allegations against the government of the Kingdom,” according to a statement in the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) published early Saturday.
Abdulaziz also said “some media” have circulated “false accusations” regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance.
On Friday, a source familiar with the ongoing investigation told CNN that Turkish authorities have audio and visual evidence that showed Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate. But it was unclear how Turkish authorities obtained the evidence.
The evidence, which was described to the source by a Western intelligence agency, showed there had been an assault and a struggle inside the consulate. There is also evidence of the moment that Khashoggi was killed, the source said.
Turkish security units analyzed how Khashoggi’s reported killing unfolded with the use of a translator, according to Sabah.
Sabah also reported that investigation units are currently examining all cell phone and landline records from the consulate and the consul general’s residence on October 2.
Efforts to locate Khashoggi’s body are ongoing, Sabah reported.
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, went into the consulate to obtain paperwork that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée. He hasn’t been seen in public since.
The Washington Post reported late Thursday that the Turkish government had told US officials that it was in possession of audio and video recordings proving that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, citing unnamed US and Turkish sources.
The audio recording in particular provided “persuasive and gruesome evidence” that a Saudi team dispatched to Istanbul was responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the Post reported.
Business leaders pull out of summit
International pressure has mounted on Saudi Arabia to explain what happened to Khashoggi, a former Saudi royal insider who became a critic of the regime and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is known colloquially as MBS.
The business world has also signaled its disquiet, with British tycoon Richard Branson saying he’s pulling back from two tourism projects in Saudi Arabia and has suspended discussions with Riyadh about a $1 billion investment in Virgin’s space companies. Business leaders have also started pulling out of a key conference hosted by MBS in late October.
CNN confirmed Friday that it too would no longer participate in the Saudi Future Investment Initiative conference, known as “Davos in the desert.” CNN was a media partner for the event.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reaffirmed his commitment to attend the Riyadh summit while expressing concerns about Khashoggi’s status.
“The conference is on for now, I am going,” he told reporters Saturday at the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting in Bali, Indonesia. He also suggested that his plans could change as details from the investigation are released.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde told reporters in Bali she also still planned to go to the Riyadh conference. “Horrifying things have been reported” following Khashoggi’s disappearance, she said, but she had “to conduct the business of the IMF in all corners of the world, and with many governments.”
Lagarde said she always spoke her mind when visiting a country and that she would be paying close attention to developments in the case.
Trump to speak with Saudi King ‘pretty soon’
US President Donald Trump said Friday he had not yet spoken with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance and reported killing, but that he plans to “pretty soon.”
Trump offered no new information on the case but said the US was working to uncover what happened. “A lot of people are looking to find out because it is potentially a really, really terrible situation so we’ll see what happens,” he said, speaking in Ohio.
A day earlier, Trump said he was reluctant to take action, particularly on the issue of arms sales. “There are other things we can do,” he told reporters at the White House.
The US signed a nearly $110 billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia in May 2017, when Trump made Saudi Arabia a stop on his first foreign trip as president. The stop was seen, in part, as an endorsement of the strong relationship between Trump, Jared Kushner – his son-in-law and senior adviser – and bin Salman.
France’s Foreign Ministry said it had demanded that Saudi Arabia provide a “complete and detailed response” with regard to the reported killing of Khashoggi, whose disappearance “raises serious questions about his fate.”
Gulf Arab states came out in support of Saudi Arabia, however, in the first wave of official reactions from its neighbors.
In a tweet Thursday, the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister, Anwar Gargash, called media reports on the matter “a fierce campaign” run in coordination with “inciting parties.”
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmad, said that “Saudi Arabia is the target, not the search for truth.”
Focus on 15 men
Turkish authorities believe 15 Saudi men who arrived in Istanbul on October 2 were connected to Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible killing. At least some of them appear to have high-level connections in the Saudi government.
One of the Saudi men was identified by Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency and Sabah as Salah Muhammed al-Tubaiqi. He is listed on an official Saudi health website as the head of the forensic medicine department at the interior ministry.
On Thursday, a US official familiar with the intelligence told CNN that the US had intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him.
Washington’s “working assumption” is that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate in Istanbul, according to a US official familiar with the latest intelligence. “We are pretty clear eyed it is likely to have happened and it didn’t end well,” the official said. The source did caution that this was the latest assessment and no conclusions had been made.
A source who knows Khashoggi told CNN that Saudi authorities made several attempts to reach out to Khashoggi in 2017, including proposing he lead a think tank funded by the state. The source says that Khashoggi rejected the ideas and over the following months his much sharper criticism of the government, in its domestic policy and relating to the crisis with Qatar, ended any dialogue.
The source, who maintains high-level contact inside the kingdom, says that senior figures in the Royal Court in Riyadh were especially infuriated by Khashoggi’s criticism of the decision by Saudi authorities in September 2017 to classify the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi as terrorists. At the same time, the source says, Khashoggi became more wary of returning to the kingdom.
Three days before his disappearance, Khashoggi – speaking to a BBC journalist in an off-air conversation after a radio interview – said he did not think he would ever be able to return to Saudi Arabia.
Asked when he might be able to go home again, Khashoggi says: “I don’t think I’ll be able to.”
The BBC several days ago said it decided to publish the off-air conversation “in light of the current circumstances.”
A delegation from Saudi Arabia has arrived in Turkey for the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Friday.
On Friday, a Saudi official said that he “welcomed” an announcement by the Turkish President to form a joint team of experts from both countries to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance and that he was “fully confident of the team’s ability to accomplish the mission,” according to a Saudi Information Ministry statement.
He said the “Kingdom attached utmost priority to its citizens’ safety and security, irrespective of their location.”
CNN’s Nic Robertson reported from Istanbul and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Tim Lister, Gul Tuysuz, Bard Wilkinson, Hadas Gold, Jeremy Diamond, Donna Borak, Hamdi Alkhshali, Jennifer Deaton and Sam Bradpiece contributed to this report.