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Jamal Khashoggi lookalike in 15-man team dispatched to abduct or murder Saudi journalist

Borzou Daragahi

The presence of a Jamal Khashoggi lookalike on the 15-man team dispatched to either abduct or murder the journalist has added to mounting questions about Saudi Arabia’s evolving narrative as Turkey’s president prepares to disclose more details about the case.

"We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, said at the opening of an Istanbul mass transit line expansion on Sunday, vowing to reveal more details of the Khashoggi case. “This is not an ordinary case. The incident will be revealed entirely.”

We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Saudi Arabia has sought to depict the 2 October murder of the 59-year-old Washington Post correspondent as an unintended death that took place during an attempt to convince him to come home as part of an authorised program to draw dissidents back to the kingdom. But officials in world capitals have cast doubt on that version of events.

Security personnel guard Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. ((AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis))

Mr Erdogan has long sought better relations with Saudi Arabia but considers its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a reckless upstart. An editor considered close to Mr Erdogan wrote a piece in the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper on the weekend demanding the dethroning of the Crown Prince and his mentor, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, lambasting both as stooges of Washington neoconservatives and Israel.

“This duo must be taken out of the entire region and neutralised,” wrote Ibrahim Karagul, the paper’s editor-in-chief. “Otherwise they are going to throw the region in fire."

Citing unnamed government sources, the newspaper also reported Monday that the Crown Prince spoke over the phone with Mr Khashoggi during a consular visit to obtain personal papers and personally attempted to convince him to return to the kingdom.

The claim could not be verified but other sources have told The Independent that there was communication between the consulate and Riyadh during at least some parts of Mr Khashoggi’s encounter there.

The details add to questions about the intentions and origins of the Saudi scheme to confront Mr Khashoggi. Observers have already noted that the presence of a forensic medicine specialist, and a senior intelligence officer often spotted with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as facts that contradict the narrative of a benign operation organised beyond the control of Saudi rulers that went bad.

Mustafa al-Madany, at the passport control of Istanbul's Ataturk airport (left), and in traditional Saudi attire

The presence of a decoy on what Saudi officials have called a “negotiation team” suggests that the operation and Khashoggi's death were far less haphazard than described by Saudi officials.

At 57 years old, Mustafa Muhammed al-Madany was the oldest member by a dozen years of the alleged team dispatched to Saudi Arabia from Riyadh to confront the 59-year-old journalist.

Unlike the lanky intelligence officers he accompanied, Mr Madany was pudgy, and grey-haired, but bore a vague physical a resemblance to the victim.

“He really looks like Jamal,” said one Saudi resident who has sought to call attention to Mr Madany. “Of course, he was among the team by accident.”

Mr Madany arrived in Istanbul aboard a private jet owned by a company close to the Saudi government early 2 October, checked into the five-star Movenpick hotel near the Saudi consulate.

Surveillance footage shows the lookalike on the streets of Istanbul (Screengrab/CNN)

After the murder, Mr Madany dressed in his clothes and left through the consulate’s back door, heading to Istanbul’s Fatih district in an attempt to throw off surveillance cameras before dumping his clothes at undisclosed location, an unnamed Saudi official told Reuters.

It came as CNN broadcast security camera footage leaked by Turkish authorities purportedly showing Mr Madany, wearing what appear to be Mr Khashoggi's clothes, strolling through the area near Istanbul's Blue Mosque, a popular tourist destination.

He headed to Istanbul's Ataturk airport left the country shortly after midnight on a commercial flight to Riyadh.

Mr Madany, who has called himself an engineer and government employee on social media, has also been described a possible Saudi intelligence apparatus associate.

Internet sleuths who have scoured MenoM3ay, a social media platform popular among Arabian Peninsula states have also drawn this conclusion.

Turkish officials have given few hints of what Mr Erdogan plans to disclose on Tuesday, during a meeting with politicians from his own Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP. Unnamed Turkish officials have told local and international journalists of audio recordings capturing the final moments of Mr Khashoggi’s life, and what they have described as brutal, and dismemberment, but have yet to release the actual recordings.

Saudi Arabia’s leadership is struggling to overcome what has mushroomed into the country’s worst public relations disaster since 15 of the 19 hijackers behind the 11 September attacks in the US turned out to be Saudi nationals. Early Monday, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency reported that King Salman and the Crown Prince had both offered condolences to Khashoggi’s family. His four children have called for the establishment of an “independent and impartial international commission” to investigate their father’s death.

Mr Erdogan’s aides and adjutants appear fixated on tying the crime to senior Saudi officials, especially the Crown Prince. The time of Mr Erdogan’s speech Tuesday coincides with the opening of a major business summit in Riyadh overseen by the Crown Prince. On Monday, Turkish prosecutors were reportedly interrogating 25 members of the Saudi consulate staff for information about what happened inside the building on day of Khashoggi's murder, Turkish TV reported.

"A crime committed in a consulate cannot be carried out without the knowledge of the senior state officials of that country,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the AKP, told CNN Turk on Sunday. “If this crime was really carried out as has been said, if the evidence really leads to that conclusion, the situation will be dire and this must have very serious legal consequences."