The killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi were heard laughing moments before he entered the Saudi consulate and was murdered by a hit squad, it has been revealed.
The Washington Post columnist was executed in Istanbul after visiting his country’s embassy to collect divorce papers.
In the days following his disappearance on October 2 last year, the Saudi and Turkish authorities issued contradictory statements about how he died and who was responsible.
But unbeknown to the Saudis, their consulate was bugged by Turkish intelligence, meaning that much of the planning and execution of his assassination was recorded.
Two experts who have listened to the recordings have revealed the ‘chilling’ and ‘callous’ discussions the killers had before and after the murder.
Correspondent Jane Corbin (right) interviewing British barrister Helena Kennedy (left), who was one of the few people to hear the tape recordings of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
CCTV images showed the moment Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. He was never seen leaving the building
In one part of the tape they can reportedly be heard laughing and joking before Khashoggi entered the room.
According to a UN report published earlier this year the writer, who has been critical of the Saudi government, was drugged with a sedative and suffocated with a plastic bag.
In a BBC Panorama episode to be aired this evening to mark one year on from the brutal murder, human rights expert Agnes Callamard, who wrote the UN report, and British criminal barrister Helena Kennedy discuss what they heard on the covert tapes.
Very few people have heard these chilling recordings that reveal the details of what happened to Khashoggi, the hit squad sent to kill him and the cover-up that followed.
Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi had criticised the Saudi government
News programmes worldwide showed CCTV images of the last time Khashoggi was seen alive as he entered the consulate building.
But the tapes reveal the disturbing conversations happening inside at that very moment between the leader of the operation, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, and a forensic pathologist, Dr Salah al Tubaigy.
Speaking to Panorama, Kennedy describes Tubaigy talking about what is going to happen to Khashoggi: ‘It’s just so cold and callous. He says ”it’s the first time in my life that I’ll have had to cut pieces on the ground. Even if you’re a butcher and you want to cut…he hangs the animal up to do so”.
‘You can hear them laughing. It’s a sort of chilling business. They’re waiting there knowing that this man is going to come in and he’s going to be murdered.’
Khashoggi is heard on the tapes being greeted by his killers as he arrives at the Saudi consulate.
Kennedy adds: ‘There was a point where you can hear Khashoggi moving from being a man who’s a confident person, towards a sense of fear; a sense of anxiety; rising anxiety; rising terror and then knowing that something fatal is about to happen’.
While Khashoggi was inside the building his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, was outside waiting for his return.
Callamard said it is possible Khashoggi believed he was only going to be abducted rather than murdered.
She added: ‘I don’t know whether he thinks he could be killed. He certainly thinks that they could try to abduct him.
UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who investigated the murder of Jamal Khashoggi speaking on BBC Panorama
CCTV footage of Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, at an apartment building in Istanbul just hours before his death in the Saudi Arabian consulate
‘He’s asking ‘are you going to do that to me? Are you going to give me an injection?… The sounds that are heard after that point indicate that he’s suffocated, probably with a plastic bag over his head.’
Just 30 minutes after Khashoggi entered the consulate, his body was being dismembered by Tubaigy.
Kennedy added: ‘You hear a voice saying ”let him cut”… and then somebody shouting ”it’s over, it’s over”.’
The recordings also refute the Saudis claim that Khashoggi’s death was a rogue operation, with the tapes exposing several phone calls in the days leading up to the murder that set the plan in motion.
Kennedy says: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that this was a seriously, highly organised mission coming from the top. This was not some flaky maverick operation’.
The programme hears more evidence that responsibility for the murder goes to the highest levels of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and asks whether the West has turned a blind eye to state sanctioned murder in the interests of maintaining trading relationships.
Kennedy said: ‘Something treacherous and terrible happened in that embassy. The international community has a responsibility to insist on a high level judicial enquiry.’
The Saudi embassy in London said that they ‘condemn the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate and they are committed to holding the perpetrators accountable’.
Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was killed on October 2 shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate (pictured) in what Riyadh called a ‘rogue’ operation
CCTV footage has emerged allegedly showing Jamal Khashoggi’s body parts being carried into Saudi Arabia’s consul residence in bags and suitcases on the day he was murdered
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS News on Sunday that he did not order the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi
In an interview with CBS 60 Minutes yesterday Bin Salman said he takes ‘full responsibility’ for the grisly murder of Khashoggi as it happened ‘under my watch’, but denied allegations he ordered the killing.
The 34-year-old crown prince said: ‘This was a heinous crime. But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.’
Asked if he ordered the murder of Khashoggi, the crown prince described the slaying was ‘a mistake’ and replied: ‘Absolutely not’.
Agents of the Saudi government killed Khashoggi inside the consulate and apparently dismembered his body, which has never been found.
Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people in the slaying and put them on trial, which has been held in secret. As of yet, no one has been convicted.
A United Nations report asserted that Saudi Arabia bore responsibility for the killing and said the crown prince’s possible role in it should be investigated.
In Washington, Congress has said it believes the crown prince is ‘responsible for the murder.’
Saudi Arabia has long insisted the crown prince had no involvement in an operation that included agents who reported directly to him.