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Examining CCTV Videos of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Connected to Khashoggi’s Disappearance

October 15, 2018

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

On October 8, a photograph spread throughout WhatsApp showing Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist living in Turkey, entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul through a rear entrance. He has not been seen since, with credible reports that he was either murdered or kidnapped by Saudi officials. Later, a video that this photograph was taken from was broadcast on Turkish television, showing that Khashoggi entered the consulate at 1:14 p.m on October 2, assuming the CCTV timestamp is correct. Khashoggi’s fiancee has confirmed that the man in the footage is indeed him.

Bellingcat’s Christiaan Triebert has geolocated this footage, verifying that it did indeed show the rear entrance of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A clearer map showing the location can be found in the New York Times’ timeline of Khashoggi’s disappearance, highlighting the rear entrance to the consulate.

Source: New York Times / Associated Press

During this video, a Mercedes Sprinter van is parked near the rear entrance, with a blurry license plate. Bellingcat’s Timmi Allen used a number of image analysis tools to determine the license plate number, similar to the methodology he used to identify the license plate of a vehicle near the site of Ukrainian journalist Pavel Sheremet’s assassination, as detailed in the documentary “Killing Pavel.” The license plate number of this van is 34 CC 2342, which corresponds to the code for Istanbul (34) and vehicles used by consulates (CC).

While there has not been any evidence that this vehicle was involved in the disappearance of the Saudi journalist, its license plate further verifies the leaked CCTV video. However, there is another Mercedes vehicle — a Vito — that is allegedly involved with Khashoggi’s murder or kidnapping. This Mercedes Vito left the consulate and arrived at about 200 meters away at the Consulate General’s residence at 3:09pm, about two hours after Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate.

The license plate of this second van, the Mercedes Vito, is 34 CC 1865, with the same four digits and letters as the other van, being registered to an Istanbul consulate.

Turkish media reported that this same van “rehearsed” its path between the consulate and Consulate General’s residence the day before Khashoggi’s disappearance, indicating that this van was used to transport Khashoggi (either alive or dead) or other items related to his possible murder.

With Istanbul being one of the world’s largest and connected cities, there is likely undiscovered digital evidence showing these two vans around the time of Khashoggi’s disappearance and afterwards. Some of these digital sources include user-generated content (uploaded videos, photographs, and witness accounts from social networks and other sharing platforms), public access photographs and videos (such as webcams or livefeeds of traffic), and, perhaps, even satellite imagery.

There have been a number of successful and interesting crowdsourcing campaigns to gather information on the Khashoggi disappearance, and Bellingcat has been fortunate to have a number of eagle-eyed and creative followers who have uncovered information on other topics, such as with Europol’s “Stop Child Abuse” program. If you have findings related to the Khashoggi disappearance — especially with the vans used by the Saudi consulate in Istanbul — tweet at us (here), message us on Facebook (here), or email us (here), and we will amplify and gather contributions across our social media platforms.

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48 Comments

  1. John Lanseter

    This report and the work done by your people is first class. It would help those of us just stating in our citizen journalism to know the following:

    1. How and where did you Open Source the flights?
    2. How, from the original photo, did you confirm geolocation of embassy assuming no EXIF data and therefor no lat/long?
    4. What tools can be used to clear a fuzzy car number.

    This would help many of us

    Thanks
    John

    Reply
    • moist_towel

      @John Lancaster

      Of course it is nice to make a comprehensive overview of techniques. But bellingcat actually has done that previously for each of your points, and they are linking to them. There would be little added value for them to re-list them here.

      1 correlate reporting by DailySabah with open flight data
      http://google.com/search?q=open%20flight%20data

      2 Bellingcat has extensive documentation about analyses where detailed geolocation played a pivotal role
      https://www.bellingcat.com/tag/geolocation/

      3 (4?) In the article it points to “Killing Pavel” as giving a full explanation. See https://twitter.com/EliotHiggins/status/862373671092051968?s=19

      This may sound harsh, but the best tip I could give a starting journalist: let go of the idea that information will be presented in cut-and-dry form. To be the first to strike gold, you will have to sift through the most mud.

      Reply
    • Portonchok

      They will only share their techniques with you if you pay them USD 2500 to attend one of their 5 day courses.

      Reply
      • Mad Dog

        Actually, Portonchok, they have provided this kind of information a number of times gratis. Your inference that they are just in it for the money is not based on any facts.

        Reply
  2. Portonchok

    Interesting how our western media is now coalescing around the Saudi propaganda narrative that this was an unauthorised killing, an interrogation gone wrong. Our neoliberal leaders are falling over themselves to become enriched by these medieval scumbags. Will Bellingcat memory hole your investigation or will you continue and expose these evil doers relentlessly?

    Reply
    • Caspar

      CD is a diplomatic plate too, so in a general sense it shouldn’t matter. CC is linked to a consulate and CD to an embassy – short for Corps Diplomatique.

      Obviously crucial to identify the actual car, but either way it’s a diplomatic vehicle.

      Reply
      • pion

        exactly – in our capital CD always means diplomatic car- it has many advantages – no police officer can stop o search this car, so it is the best option for such activities. I still dont get it, why is somebody above the law – same law should be applied for everybody, without any exemeptions, then it will be much harder to commit crimes, just because there is no way to stop it.

        Reply
    • Servus

      So “Maureen” enter exactly same text as ” Francesca” , you have a buggy tool in Olgino, have seen this bug before.

      Reply
  3. concerned citizen

    Pretty obvious it says CD, plus don’t people at Bellingcat apply reason to what they are looking at?
    A diplomatic vehicle is gonna have CD on it. Stands for corps diplomatique in French, the international language of diplomacy.

    Reply
  4. Bigfoot

    The “victim” is not a “journalist”.
    He’s a close confidant Islamist to the Bin Laden family and Muslim Brotherhood.

    Reply
    • concerned citizen

      Well the Washington Post seems to think he’s a journalist, plus I wasn’t aware that the bin Laden family or the Muslim Brotherhood have done anything wrong as such?

      Reply
    • lws

      Well, Kaşıkçı (Khashoggi) was editor of Saudi newspapers, started a satellite TV channel, and was — as already noted — regularly writing a column for the US daily “Washington Post”. So it is fair to call him a journalist.

      And Kaşıkçı (I prefer the Turkish ortography, because the name must be of Turkic origin anyway) was an insider to the Saudi regime, and it is very probable that he had contacts to the bin Laden family, a rich capitalist family. The Saudi regime and their cronies have financed and supported personally various reactionary armed actions in service of US imperialism.

      But after Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) was assigned the role of “crown prince” by his fater King Salman bin Aziz, and MBS established kind of a personal dictatorship, Kaşıkçı preferred to stay out of the country.

      In the eyes of the young crown prince, Khashoggi symbolized the three-prong threat to his rule: the Muslim Brothers, the Turkish-Qatari axis and disaffected princes. When Khashoggi moved to America, Salman added a fourth prong: the element of the American elite that sought to downgrade Saudi Arabia’s friendship in US foreign policy.

      .
      .
      wrote Tony Badran and Michael Doran of the neocon misnamed “Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD)” in the October 18 New York Post “Why the Saudis despised Jamal Khashoggi”. About Saudi abductions of Saudi nationals see BBC’s “Saudi Arabia’s missing princes” (15 August 2017)

      So it was decided at an obviously very high level in er-Riyadh to eliminate Kaşıkçı.

      Before the Syrian civil war, this might have succeeded and the event being gone unnoticed in the world press, but the plan went wrong
      • a) because Kaşıkçı’s fiancée was waiting outside of the main entrance of the consulate for her soon to be husband, so that the Kaşıkçı impersonator, whom the Saudis brought with their team, to fake Kaşıkçı by wearing the dead man’s clothes, and leaving the consulate for the CCTV camera which saw him entering , could not get out there, but had to use the back door (which can now be seen in the TV channels), and
      • b) because the Turkish state did not cooperate as it would have done 10 years ago, but which had developed its own imperialist interests and conflicting ones to the Saudi especially in the Syrian war, and which had grievances with the USA for supporting the Syrian sister party of the Turkish PKK, the YPG; so the Turkish state is using this case to extort concessions from the USA.

      The US minister of war, Mattes, stated on last Saturday at a conference in Bahrain that the Kaşıkçı is threatening the stability of the near and middle east. He is right, but he should also note that this murder is also a product of the continuing deterioration of the imperialist “stability” i.e. domination over the Arab East and West Asia and North Africa in general. Which made Mattes now calling for a (fake) “cease fire” in Yemen, so that they might impose a subservient government on the Yemenis without killing and maiming all day long, but only by threatening to resume the mayhem. Mattis laid out a complicated plan, but the US could very simply end the bombing by stopping to in flight refuelling the Saudi bombers.

      We should instead call for the immediate and unconditional end of the Saudi bombing campaign, the immediate and unconditional ending of US support for this war, and the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Emirati, and Saudi and US military and “security” personnel from Yemen.

      Reply
  5. Moor

    Thing that has been puzzling me is whose CCTV was covering that Saudi entrance, and why? Saudis have said that none of their CCTV is available. Who else would have a CCTV covering an otherwise inconsequential back-street?

    Reply
    • lws

      This is the camera on the grey box which can be seen to the left (seen from the street) of the main entry to the Saudi consulate.

      I guess this is one of those police boxes which can be seen in front of many diplomatic representations of foreign governements, from which the police of the receiving state is taking care for the security of the diplomatic or consular personnel and procedures.

      The Saudi planners of Khashoggi’s murder had obviously planned to let their impersonator to walk out of the consulate in the dead man’s clothes and get recorded by the same Turkish CCTV camera — and then this deceptive move was made impossible, because Hatice Cengiz, his fiancé, waiting outside for him to come out again, could certainly not be fooled by the impersonator, which then walked out the back door.

      Reply

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