For Omar Abdulaziz, a 27-year-old Saudi dissident living in exile in Canada, the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi was more than a prominent columnist and veteran who knew the ins and outs of the Saudi royal court. He was a mentor and father figure.
Abdulaziz, who often lambasts the Saudi leadership and the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in online videos that garner a huge following, cannot see his parents, who still live in the kingdom. Khashoggi was also forced to live abroad, without his children.
So when Abdulaziz learned of the journalist’s fate – his brutal killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – he broke down. But he now takes solace in what Khashoggi has achieved in death.
“The idiots wanted to silence his voice,” he says. “But they made way for a thousand other voices.”
It is now nearly two months since Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, disappeared inside the consulate. Turkish prosecutors say he was attacked on entering the building and strangled, his body dismembered and destroyed. His corpse has not been found, but Turkish officials identified more than a dozen Saudi operatives who travelled to Istanbul and allegedly took part in a premeditated assassination.
Saudi officials have acknowledged the killing, and have said they will pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying it out. But they insist it was the work of a rogue cell that went beyond instructions to bring back Saudi dissidents from around the world. Some of the suspects, and top intelligence officials who were ousted in the aftermath, are close to the crown prince, but officials insist that he had no knowledge of the operation. The CIA believes otherwise, however, reportedly concluding that Prince Mohammed ordered the assassination.
The murder has sparked global outrage and damaged the reputation of a leader who had billed himself as a reformer eager to modernise Saudi society but has cracked down on activists and opponents at home. The killing was particularly disturbing to Abdulaziz because, aside from his personal grief, there were chilling parallels with his own life.