Jamal Khashoggi's last words

An audio transcript of the journalist's painful last moments show he knew something was wrong when he stepped into the consulate, says a source who read the account. CNN's Nic Robertson reports.

Posted: Dec 10, 2018 11:03 PM
Updated: Dec 10, 2018 11:05 PM

"I can't breathe." These were the final words uttered by Jamal Khashoggi after he was set upon by a Saudi hit squad at the country's consulate in Istanbul, according to a source briefed on the investigation into the killing of the Washington Post columnist.

The source, who has read a translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi's painful last moments, said it was clear that the killing on October 2 was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist.

During the course of the gruesome scene, the source describes Khashoggi struggling against a group of people determined to kill him.

"I can't breathe," Khashoggi says.

"I can't breathe."

"I can't breathe."

The transcript notes the sounds of Khashoggi's body being dismembered by a saw, as the alleged perpetrators are advised to listen to music to block out the sound.

And, according to the source, the transcript suggests that a series of phone calls are made, briefing them on progress. Turkish officials believe the calls were made to senior figures in Riyadh.

Some of the details in the transcript seen by CNN's source have emerged in previous reports of the recording's content. But this is the fullest account of the transcript that has so far been published.

It is likely to increase pressure on the Trump administration, which has been determined to separate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the murder, and sought to frame the issue as a binary choice between supporting or cutting off a key partner in the Middle East. US President Donald Trump has been at odds with the CIA, which, sources say, has concluded bin Salman personally ordered the killing.

The revelations also threaten to undermine a key plank of an initial Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death, that it was a rogue operation that went horribly wrong.

The original transcript of the audio was prepared by Turkish intelligence services. Turkish officials have never said how they obtained the audio. The transcript would have been translated before it was shared with other intelligence services; CNN's source read a translated version and has been briefed on the investigation.

The office of one US senator, who has received a briefing on the investigation by CIA Director Gina Haspel, told CNN that the source's recollections of the transcript are "consistent" with that briefing.

CNN asked Saudi officials to comment on the contents of the transcript as described by the source, and to provide comment from those named in it. A Saudi official said: "The relevant Saudi security officials have reviewed the transcript and tape materials through Turkish security channels and nowhere in them is there any reference or indication of a call being made."

"If there is additional information Turkish authorities have that we are unaware of, we would welcome it being officially handed over to us for review, which we have requested numerous times and are still requesting. And, up until now; we have not received anything." The official did not address the transcript's characterization of the scene inside the Saudi consulate, nor Khashoggi's last words.

'You are coming back'

The transcript begins at the moment Khashoggi enters the Saudi consulate in a quiet residential district of Istanbul at lunchtime on October 2.

Khashoggi thought he had made a routine appointment to pick up papers that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. But, according to the source, it dawns upon Khashoggi almost immediately that things are not going to plan, when he recognizes one of the men who meets him.

He asks the man what he is doing there.

According to CNN's source, a voice identified in the transcript as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a former Saudi diplomat and intelligence official working for bin Salman, and known to Khashoggi from their time together at the Saudi Embassy in London, addresses him.

"You are coming back," the man says.

"You can't do that," Khashoggi replies. "People are waiting outside."

(Khashoggi's fiancée accompanied him as far as the consulate, with instructions to call associates if he did not emerge.)

Without any further dialogue, according to the source, the transcript indicates that several people set upon Khashoggi.

Noises follow, and very quickly Khashoggi is fighting for air.

In one version of the evolving explanations for his death, Saudi officials suggested Khashoggi was accidentally choked. But according to the transcript, CNN's source says, the journalist's voice can be heard above the noise, repeatedly claiming he could not breathe.

Despite his desperate pleas, the last discernible words the transcript records for Khashoggi are:

"I can't breathe."

The transcript notes more noises, and several more voices.

One of those voices is identified on the transcript by Turkish authorities as belonging to Dr. Salah Muhammad al-Tubaiqi, the head of forensic medicine at Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry, the source says.

Aside from Khashoggi and Mutreb, he is the only other voice identified by name on the transcript.

As the transcript continues, it is clear Khashoggi is not yet dead.

The transcript notes the noises that can be heard on the tape, almost in the manner that subtitles describe moments in movies where there is no dialogue.

"Scream."

"Scream."

"Gasping."

Then, the transcript notes other descriptions.

"Saw."

"Cutting."

Tubaiqi is noted giving some advice to other people in the room, apparently to help them deal with the appalling task.

"Put your earphones in, or listen to music like me."

During the scene, the transcript notes at least three phone calls placed by Mutreb.

The transcript does not specify the moment Khashoggi dies.

According to the source, the transcript suggests Mutreb is updating someone, whom Turkish officials say was in Riyadh, with almost step-by-step details of what is taking place.

"Tell yours, the thing is done, it's done."

The word "yours" is taken by CNN's source to refer to a superior, or boss.

The transcript has been circulated to key Turkish and Saudi allies, including those in Europe, but only the United States and Saudi Arabia have received the recording itself, the source believes.

The working assumption among those allies is that Mutreb was talking to Saud al-Qahtani, bin Salman's closest aide, the source said. Saudi officials say al-Qahtani has been removed from his former position as media chief to the crown prince.

The transcript only records Mutreb's side of the conversation. Without a recording of that call, or more details of which number was called, further conclusions based on the transcript alone cannot be made.

A source close to the Saudi investigation into Khashoggi's killing told CNN that Mutreb and Tubaiqi deny making any phone calls.

CNN has previously reported how Mutreb, Tubaiqi and 13 other Saudis arrived in Istanbul by private charter jets and commercial aircraft on the day of and the days leading up to Khashoggi's murder.

Turkish surveillance video records the 15-man hit team arriving at the consulate shortly before Khashoggi, and departing a few hours later. A body double of Khashoggi dressed in Khashoggi's clothes is seen on CCTV leaving by the back door.

It is clear from the transcript of the phone conversation that the calls do not describe a terrible situation gone awry, or explain an unexpected set of circumstances, the source says. Instead, the caller appears simply to be informing someone of what is going on. Hardly, the source says, the actions of a panicked ringleader, but more the description of a situation going entirely according to plan.

The transcript is relatively short, given the time span it describes, the source told CNN. There is not much dialogue; certainly no hint of a conversation about why Khashoggi should go "back," and no suggestion either, as advanced at one point by Saudi officials, that he had been drugged by the hit team.

There is nothing in this transcript that the source could describe as a "smoking gun" -- a snippet of conversation or phone call that directly ties bin Salman to the so-called hit team, and to Khashoggi's murder.

But the lasting conclusion the source drew from the transcript is that Khashoggi's killing was a planned assassination by an organized team that carried out its job with ruthless efficiency, keeping someone in Riyadh informed at each step.

While the transcript provides no smoking gun directly tying Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing, it seems to echo Sen. Lindsey Graham's sentiments after hearing the CIA's assessment of Khashoggi's killing.

Graham, who was among a group of senators to receive a classified briefing on the Khashoggi case, said earlier this week that he agreed with the conclusions of the US security services that bin Salman was implicated in the case.

"There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw," he said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 547101

Reported Deaths: 7056
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1139831672
Ramsey47188850
Dakota41764418
Anoka37816415
Washington24550273
Stearns20738218
St. Louis16572296
Scott15682117
Wright14561125
Olmsted1264796
Sherburne1037380
Carver964944
Clay773889
Rice7506101
Blue Earth687340
Kandiyohi622679
Crow Wing603586
Chisago541549
Otter Tail537473
Benton524597
Mower448632
Douglas437270
Winona436649
Goodhue435371
Nobles397848
Morrison389159
McLeod385754
Beltrami369257
Isanti367559
Itasca362552
Polk359866
Steele354614
Becker349348
Lyon345048
Carlton325352
Freeborn323629
Pine307521
Nicollet303242
Brown292239
Mille Lacs274849
Le Sueur267622
Todd266430
Cass245926
Meeker230337
Waseca228720
Martin210729
Wabasha19903
Roseau194818
Hubbard169241
Dodge16914
Renville169143
Redwood164835
Houston162014
Cottonwood154120
Fillmore15109
Pennington149019
Chippewa144236
Faribault142419
Wadena142021
Sibley134010
Aitkin127536
Kanabec126821
Watonwan12509
Rock121818
Jackson115410
Yellow Medicine109819
Pipestone108825
Murray10189
Pope9946
Swift98018
Marshall84717
Stevens79910
Lake77919
Koochiching76412
Wilkin76312
Clearwater76114
Lac qui Parle73422
Big Stone5564
Lincoln5562
Grant5428
Norman5169
Mahnomen4898
Unassigned48278
Kittson46122
Red Lake3827
Traverse3595
Lake of the Woods2983
Cook1440

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 356437

Reported Deaths: 5797
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55735598
Linn20229329
Scott18871234
Black Hawk15498306
Woodbury14858219
Johnson1395580
Dubuque13097202
Dallas1086796
Pottawattamie10668160
Story1027747
Warren552386
Clinton535489
Cerro Gordo520486
Webster507691
Sioux504873
Marshall476674
Muscatine456896
Des Moines440465
Wapello4250120
Buena Vista421440
Jasper407370
Plymouth395979
Lee367255
Marion354275
Jones292755
Henry286037
Bremer278560
Carroll278550
Crawford261739
Boone257231
Benton249555
Washington249149
Dickinson240443
Mahaska223849
Jackson217842
Kossuth212362
Clay209325
Tama206571
Delaware202039
Winneshiek193733
Page190320
Buchanan188131
Cedar183123
Fayette182841
Hardin179242
Wright179135
Hamilton177749
Harrison175273
Clayton166455
Butler162334
Mills158120
Cherokee156638
Floyd155042
Lyon154041
Madison153019
Poweshiek152333
Allamakee149051
Iowa145124
Hancock143334
Winnebago135731
Grundy135032
Cass134454
Calhoun133011
Jefferson130535
Emmet128240
Shelby127137
Sac126619
Appanoose126547
Louisa126349
Mitchell125241
Union123932
Chickasaw122515
Humboldt118026
Guthrie117328
Franklin112521
Palo Alto110121
Howard102622
Unassigned10010
Montgomery100037
Clarke98023
Keokuk94330
Monroe93428
Ida89233
Adair84232
Pocahontas83221
Monona80930
Davis79924
Greene76410
Lucas74922
Osceola74716
Worth7058
Taylor65112
Fremont61210
Decatur5899
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53522
Wayne51923
Audubon4949
Adams3274
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 36°
Mason City
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 38°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 38°
Austin
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 37°
Charles City
Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 39°
Slight warm up into the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events