On Tuesday, October 2, Washington Post global opinions editor Karen Attiah’s Whatsapp started “blowing up” with messages from mutual friends asking if she’d heard the news. “Jamal’s missing, Jamal’s missing,” they said, pointing Attiah to an article in an Arabic publication that said Jamal Khashoggi, one of her columnists, had entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul that morning and had not been seen or heard from since. “My gut feeling, just knowing the things Jamal had told me about how the royal family had been putting pressure on him, putting pressure on his family, to get him to stop writing… I started to fear the worst,” says Attiah, 32. “It’s certainly the worst moment of my professional life. The idea that we’re forever connected in this way is unreal.”
Attiah first reached out to Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist, about a year ago after some 30 clerics were detained in an apparent crackdown on dissent by Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (colloquially known as MBS), as he worked to consolidate power. “Jamal was quoted everywhere about the crackdowns and what they mean, but I didn’t see him writing anything of his own,” Attiah recalls. She thought, Clearly this guy knows a lot because everybody’s going to him for quotes, so let’s get a piece from him.
What Attiah says she didn’t know at the time is that the column she asked Khashoggi to write would be his first piece in the six months since the Saudi government barred him from writing, appearing on television, or tweeting his opinions after he was critical of then-U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. For decades Khashoggi had enjoyed a very close relationship with the royal family, serving as an advisor and unofficial spokesman, but he had grown increasingly progressive, and his criticism of Trump, with whom the royal family hoped to have a close relationship, appears to have been a bridge too far.