ANKARA: The order to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi came from the "highest levels" of the Saudi government, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said in the Washington Post on Friday and he called for the "puppetmasters" to be unmasked.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul exactly one month ago on Oct. 2.
Erdogan, in an op-ed piece in the newspaper, said he did not believe "for a second" that King Salman had ordered "the hit" on Khashoggi and he also refrained from directly accusing the crown prince.
An adviser to Erdogan said last week that MbS, as the crown prince is informally known, had "blood on his hands" over Khashoggi’s killing, the bluntest comments yet from someone linked to Erdogan about Riyadh's de facto ruler in connection with the death.
The Saudi government initially insisted Khashoggi had left the consulate, later saying he died in an unplanned "rogue operation". Last week, the kingdom's public prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb said the attack was premeditated.
"No one should dare to commit such acts on the soil of a NATO ally again. If anyone chooses to ignore that warning, they will face severe consequences," Erdogan warned in the op-ed piece.
Erdogan accused the Saudi consul in Istanbul of lying "through his teeth" and the Saudi chief prosecutor of refusing to cooperate, stalling the process and not answering simple questions.
Erdogan said there was more to Khashoggi's death than just action by "a group of security officials," he said.
"As responsible members of the international community, we must reveal the identities of the puppetmasters behind Khashoggi’s killing and discover those in whom Saudi officials — still trying to cover up the murder — have placed their trust."
Earlier on Friday, another Erdogan adviser said the team that killed Khashoggi in Istanbul cut up his body in order to dissolve it for easier disposal, the newspaper Hurriyet reported.
Yasin Aktay, who advises Erdogan and was a friend of Khashoggi's, told Hurriyet that the body was disposed of by dismembering and dissolving.
"According to the latest information we have, the reason they dismembered his body is to dissolve it easier."
(Editing by Richard Balmforth)