Turkey Pulse

Turkey issues arrest warrants for MBS associates

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Article Summary
Turkey sends a message to Saudi Arabia and the world about the Khashoggi murder.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey took its pursuit of the killers of Jamal Khashoggi a step further Wednesday when an Istanbul court issued arrest warrants for two close associates of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying there was “strong suspicion” the men planned the murder of the Washington Post contributor.

The warrants are for Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, whom the crown prince had promoted to deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, and Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide who once described himself as the “faithful executor” of the crown prince’s orders. Both were fired in October when, after 18 days of denial, the Riyadh government admitted Khashoggi had been killed during his visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

It is unlikely the warrants will ever be served. Assiri and Qahtani would be foolish to come to Turkey. But as has happened frequently in the Khashoggi affair, Turkey is flashing a signal to Riyadh and the world.

Ankara is telling Riyadh that its failure to charge Assiri and Qahtani makes nonsense of Saudi claims to be conducting a thorough investigation into Khashoggi’s murder.

As a Turkish official told Reuters, “The prosecution’s move to issue arrest warrants for Assiri and Qahtani reflects the view that the Saudi authorities won’t take formal action against those individuals.”

Turkey is telling the world that the road to the person ultimately responsible passes through these two former lieutenants of the crown prince.

Local reports said Istanbul prosecutors could ask Interpol to issue red notices for Assiri and Qahtani, which would oblige other countries to arrest the two men if they set foot on those nations' soil.

Turkey has been accused of abusing the red notice system by applying it to dissidents. In October, a court asked Interpol to require the arrest of the former editor of Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar, who was convicted of espionage for revealing that Turkey was supplying arms to Syrian rebels without parliament’s knowledge. However, were Turkey to approach Interpol about Assiri and Qahtani, the Turkish case would be based on more solid criminal evidence.

Turkey’s move came a day after US senators flashed a much stronger signal toward Riyadh and the crown prince, often referred to by his initials MBS. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told reporters, “I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince MBS ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening,” 

The Tennessee Republican added: “If he was in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes. Guilty." 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: “You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS.”

Graham and Corker were among a group of senators whom CIA director Gina Haspel briefed on Khashoggi’s killing on Tuesday.

The spokesperson of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, Fatimah Baeshen, said her government “categorically’’ rejected any link between the crown prince and the murder of Khashoggi.

In Europe on Wednesday, the UN commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for the creation of an international inquiry to determine who was responsible for the murder. “I do believe it is really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the (people) responsible for that awful killing,” Bachelet told reporters in Geneva.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would willingly participate in an international inquiry and would call for one if current efforts petered out.

“We want Saudi Arabia to be transparent,” he told reporters at a NATO conference in Brussels. “They (the Saudis) are making contradictory statements (about the killing).”

In another development involving domestic news, all the big newspapers in Turkey have published photographs this week of a beautiful young woman who died in mysterious circumstances.

Sule Cet was found dead at the bottom of a tall office building in Ankara on May 28, having fallen from the 20th floor in the early hours of the morning.

A textile design student at Gazi University, Cet had gone to the building after dining with two young men. Press reports said one of the men had wanted to collect something from his office. Bir Gun newspaper published a blurred security camera photograph of what it said was Cet and a man, standing apart, in the building’s foyer.

Initially, Cet was thought to have committed suicide. One of the men told the police she had thrown herself out of the window shouting, “I don’t want to live anymore.”

“I tried to stop her from jumping out the window,” he testified, “I couldn’t stop her.”

But Cet’s family did not believe she was suicidal. They suspected the men’s intentions.

A friend of Cet’s came forward with a text message from Cet sent two hours before she died. It said: “I can’t get out of here, this man doesn’t let me go, he is obsessed with me.”

Detectives found no fingerprints on the window, and suspected it had been washed. They also found one man’s DNA under Cet’s fingernails, which did not fit with the man’s testifying he only shook hands with her.

On Monday the two men, Cagatay Aksu and Berk Akand, were charged with murder, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment. Prosecutors asked for life imprisonment on the murder charge and up to a total of 39 years for the lesser charges. The indictment said Aksu and Akand threw her body out of the window and cleaned the office in an attempt to cover up their crime.

The story recalled other ghastly murders of young women that became national talking-points in Turkey.

In 2009 a high school student, Munevver Karabulut, 18, was killed by her boyfriend. A trash collector found her dismembered body in a garbage canister in Istanbul. The boyfriend disappeared and was thought to have fled abroad. Months later he was caught. His wealthy family had been hiding him.

In 2015 a university student, Ozgecan Aslan, 20, was on her way home in a collective taxi, called a dolmush in Turkish, when the second-to-last passenger alighted, leaving her alone. The driver took the dolmush off the road, raped her and, with the help of another man, burned her body.

Aslan became a symbol of violence against women in Turkey. Demonstrators carried posters of her face.

A social psychologist at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Beril Turkoglu, said the public at large viewed Karabulut’s and Aslan’s killings differently. Many people had disapproved of Karabulut’s going to her boyfriend’s house alone, saying “she shouldn’t have been there,” Turkoglu told Al-Monitor.

Whereas in the dolmush murder, people thought “Ozgecan wasn’t doing anything wrong; it wasn’t her fault,” Turkoglu said.

Turkoglu, who belongs to a group called Initiative for Critical Studies of Masculinities, said the way Turks perceive such crimes as influenced by "traditional gender roles." Imbued with these roles, Turks tend to think a man should be tough, enjoy a higher status than a woman and protect female honor in his family, she said. A woman's traditional role requires her to act as if she is fragile, be responsible in family affairs and to protect her honor by limiting contact with men.

“The more a victim transgresses the traditional gender roles, the more the public will blame her or think that she deserved it,” Turkoglu said.

She called for courts to impose heavier sentences for crimes against women. Judges are known to impose relatively light sentences for crimes of passion, ruling the man was motivated by excessive love.

Turkoglu also called for schools to teach children “to question and criticize our gender roles,” and to encourage young girls "to be the person they want to be" rather than accepting a traditional role. 

Sule Cet’s father, Ismail Cet, was quoted in Cumhuriyet on Wednesday as saying his daughter was such a woman.

"My daughter told me 'I want to stand on my own feet' and I supported her," he said. “This was her final year of university. I did my best, and now she is dead."

He added he did not want the court to be influenced by the alleged killers' appearance: "I don’t want the judge to lower the sentence of these people because they wear a suit and tie."

Jasper Mortimer is a South African-trained journalist who works for France24 TV and GRN. While traveling the world, he was waylaid in the Middle East, married a Turkish woman and settled in Ankara in 2007. He covers the Kurdish issue, the Syrian war and Cyprus.

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