The Saudi-Turkish investigation into the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has garnered international attention.
But the mystery surrounding his whereabouts since October 2, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, quickly took a dark turn, following a series of weakly-sourced news reports that were never corroborated and irresponsibly published.
Unnamed and misquoted sources
The first was Reuters news agency quoting unnamed “Turkish sources” and Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) advisor Yassin Aktay as saying Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
He later denied ever saying this, adding that Turkey was not accusing the Saudi state in Khashoggi’s disappearance, hinting at the possibility of a conspiracy to divide between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
‘Dismembered body’ and funeral rumors
Despite his denial and a statement from Turkish President Erdogan, who did not confirm reports of the death and expressed hopes to find him, many media outlets had already fabricated reports of Khashoggi’s body being found, or being dismembered, or that a funeral was being planned.
An Al Jazeera Channel correspondent claimed that Khashoggi’s body had been found, and that his burial and funeral would be two days later. It then deleted a tweet and omitted the story which could still be found in other outlets.
After the initial bout of news on his “killing” was being debunked, then came more media fabrications and a fresh round of death rumors.
’15-member kill team’
Western media turned to reporting uncorroborated reports on a delegation of Saudis that had been “sent to kill Khashoggi.”
But on Thursday the New York Times admitted to removing details it had included in a previous article about Khashoggi, where it claimed that the 15 Saudi tourists were operatives sent to kill him.
The newspaper’s editor placed a note at the end of the article saying: “An earlier version of this article included details about several Saudis named by Turkish officials in the case that had not been independently corroborated by The New York Times. The details have been removed in this version.”
The paragraph with the details in question now credits the doubtful information to Turkish news organization, Sabah, where as it previously credited the New York Times for finding this information.
The editor’s note put the newspaper’s credibility in question by many on social media, where several people claimed that the newspaper their sources and information from Qatari-owned channel Al Jazeera and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates.
Leaked by Turkish and Qatari media, the scenario of a “15-member kill team” was quickly proven wrong, after it falsely accused Saudi tourists who were in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport with being the crew of private Saudi jets that were linked to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Private jets and flight records
Through their official news agency, Turkish security authorities had announced on Tuesday, October 9, that the Saudi jet underwent thorough inspection prior to its departure, and there was no evidence or even suspicion around its relation to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Several pictures surfaced of the tourists at the Ataturk airport, in the regular commercial airlines' terminal, and not the one for private jets. They were also shown to be regular tourists, who do not work as crew members. One of the misused pictures is of a man and his wife at the airport, with regular travelers behind them.
In fact, a Turkish aviation expert had also discussed the discrepancies in media reports, saying the 15 Saudis pictured did not arrive on private jets and were most likely regular travelers who were recorded in public airport terminal.
“If you want exit with a private jet you cannot exit from this passport control gate. This is passenger passport control gate,” Emre Uslu tweeted.
The only truth that remains – and that has been widely forgotten by many international commentators who were quick to blame Saudi authorities – is that Khashoggi remains a missing person.
There is no evidence – be it forensic, substantiated and objective testimonies or flight records - alluding to a murder or a plot to kill the journalist.
All evidence points to an ongoing missing person’s case pending investigation.
A delegation from Saudi Arabia has arrived this week in Turkey as part of the joint investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. Saudi officials have repeatedly called on the media to await the results of the probe.
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