Khashoggi’s wife asks US and UN for help in recovering husband’s devices from Turkey

The widow of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has asked the US government and the United Nations to intervene and help her recover her husband’s electronic devices from the Turkish government so that she can take legal action before the statute of limitations expires later this year ends, according to letters, newspapers and documents. shared other details about her efforts with NBC News.

It’s been more than a year since Hanan Elatr Khashoggi first asked for the laptop, tablet and two cell phones of the Washington Post columnist who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, and she now hopes to put pressure on Turkey to comply by seeking help from National Intelligence Director Avril Haines and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The letters, which were sent in November and January, say she believes the devices “will reveal previously undisclosed details about my husband’s murder that are critical to getting to the full truth.”

“I have the right to receive all of his property, especially as I begin legal action in the United States against all parties responsible for my husband’s murder,” Hanan Elatr Khashoggi wrote in both letters, telling the NSO Group , an Israeli cybercriminal. intelligence firm, and the governments of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates as planned targets of future lawsuits.

She said Turkey recovered the devices shortly after her husband’s death and wrote in her letters that her personal appeals to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the phones, laptop and tablet “have not been honored”.

Erdogan’s office and the Turkish embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. The Turkish embassy sent Hanan Elatr Khashoggi’s lawyer a letter in December 2021 suggesting that she “send her request to the respective Turkish courts through the appropriate legal channels”.

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi, who is an Emirati, said she cannot take legal action in Turkey because she has political asylum in the US, does not have a passport and does not have the necessary finances.

Jamal Khashoggi’s devices are “so important and so vital,” she said in an interview — a point emphasized by her attorney Randa Fahmy — to knowing what led to Jamal Khashoggi’s death and holding all responsible parties to account.

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi and Jamal Khashoggi. (Courtesy of Hanan Elatr Khashoggi)

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi discovered in November 2021 that Pegasus spyware from cyber intelligence firm NSO Group had been installed on her two Android phones without her knowledge when she was in the United Arab Emirates months before her husband’s death. That discovery was confirmed by a digital forensic analysis conducted by Citizen Lab, reviewed by NBC News and first reported by The Washington Post. She thinks the same spyware could be on her husband’s devices as well.

It was the discovery of the spyware that prevented her from taking legal action. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, she has two years to file her case since the discovery. That window ends in November.

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi claims the alleged surveillance of the couple by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the NSO Group all contributed to Jamal Khashoggi’s death and she plans to file three separate lawsuits against them in US courts. She believes finding similar spyware on her husband’s devices will help her case.

“Saudi Arabia is not the only one to blame,” she told NBC News, referring to her husband’s death. “There are many who are guilty, and we have a right to know and bring them to justice.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE did not respond to requests for comment. NSO Group has denied any involvement.

“NSO has repeatedly stated that our technology was in no way related to the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi or any of his family members, including Hanan Elatr,” said a spokesman for the NSO Group.

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi’s letter to Haines was emailed to National Intelligence Chief of Staff Charles Luftig on November 2, 2022, and he acknowledged receipt of the message a day later, according to emails reported by NBC News. rated. The letter was originally sent to the agency in September, but received no reply.

Fahmy, the attorney for Hanan Elatr Khashoggi, said she happened upon Haines at the State Department on Nov. 4 during the swearing-in ceremony for U.S. ambassador to Morocco Puneet Talwar. Haines told her she had read the letter and discussed the request with the Justice Department, Fahmy said.

“I said, ‘We really need those devices,'” the lawyer recalled. “She said, ‘You’ll get a formal response, but I’ll tell you I’m talking to the Justice Department if a request like this can be made.'”

Fahmy said she had not heard from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence since November. A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter to the office of the UN Secretary-General was sent on January 30. Farhan Aziz Haq, a spokesman for the agency, confirmed they had received it and said “it is now being studied”.

‘I must go ahead and bring justice’

The first lawsuit Hanan Elatr Khashoggi said she plans to file in US court is against Saudi Arabia with criminal and civil claims for the murder of her husband, despite the Biden administration’s decision that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman be sovereign enjoys immunity in his role as Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence previously concluded that the Crown Prince had approved the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government, according to a report from Haines’ office released in February 2021. released. report also named 18 other individuals involved in his death.

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi and Fahmy believe they are in a strong position to build a case and target those named, not just the Crown Prince. While Fahmy admitted “there’s nothing we can do about the Biden administration’s findings on sovereign immunity,” she believes there are other avenues the two could explore, noting that “there are exceptions to sovereign immunity” that she’s willing to is to be tested.

The Biden administration has not imposed heavy sentences on Saudi Arabia for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, although the president has said he will hold the country and its leaders accountable for the journalist’s murder. The National Security Council — which had previously met with Hanan Elatr Khashoggi, who revealed her efforts to recover her husband’s devices during the meeting — did not respond to a request for comment.

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi.  (Courtesy of Hanan Elatr Khashoggi)

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi. (Courtesy of Hanan Elatr Khashoggi)

The second case would focus on the United Arab Emirates, where Hanan Elatr Khashoggi once lived and worked as a flight attendant. She believes that they installed the NSO Group spyware on her devices when she was detained by UAE intelligence agents at Dubai International Airport in April 2018. She gave them her phones and was blindfolded, handcuffed and questioned at a separate location about her husband, she said. .

She believes the Emirates are involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s death as they may have provided tracking information through an intelligence sharing agreement the country had with Saudi Arabia.

“They misused this to track down Jamal through me,” said Hana Elatr Khashoggi. “They knew how important that relationship between me and Jamal was because we shared everything.”

Finally, she plans to sue NSO Group. She and Fahmy believe that the same spyware could be on Jamal Khashoggi’s phone and that NSO Group was involved in maintaining the software on all of their devices.

The company is already facing other legal battles, as the Supreme Court last month allowed Meta to file a lawsuit against NSO Group for allegedly installing spy software on its WhatsApp messaging app to monitor numerous people, including journalists and activists, according to court documents. NSO Group has said it installed the software on behalf of an unnamed foreign government.

Hanan Elatr Khashoggi said that her life has not only changed because of her husband’s death – “my life has ended.” But that opinion has committed her to her husband’s cause.

She lost her career as a flight attendant, her social circle in the US consists of five people and she constantly fears for her life. At her new job in Washington DC, she earns just enough to pay for a room and feed herself.

“I am the second victim after Jamal,” said Hanan Elatr Khashoggi. “Jamal, he lost his life and I lost my life too, but I can talk about him and this gives me courage. I must go ahead and bring him justice.”

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