Skip to main content

Four Years After Khashoggi’s Murder, His Widow Takes on Private Spyware Company, the Turkish Government, and the Rise of ‘Jamal, Inc.’

Hanan Elatr and Jamal Khashoggi

On the left, Jamal Khashoggi’s widow Hanan Elatr is photographed in the White House during her reported meeting with senior Biden officials. Elatr is seen with her late husband in the photograph on the right. (Photos courtesy of Elatr.)

Listen to the full episode on Apple, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts, and subscribe.

Even after the fourth anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s death, the public’s understanding of his murder continues to evolve. The struggle for information continues, and leading some of those fights is his widow: Hanan Elatr, who married Khashoggi in Virginia just months before he died.

On the latest episode of “Objections,” Elatr and her lawyer Randa Fahmy detail their various battles for information.

“I still believe we can put some pressure, and that’s why I’m speaking up,” Elatr said on the podcast. “I really want to the US government and the intelligence to give me some support. We put some pressure in the Turkish authority and Turkish authority and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be more cooperating so we can bring a justice for Jamal.”

Before trying to reshape the public’s understanding of Khashoggi’s murder, Elatr had to fight for recognition herself by suing for a signed copy of her Islamic certificate of marriage.

Now that she has it, Elatr is using the visibility and credibility that comes with it to fight for information. One front of that battle follows the Washington Post’s exposé reporting that Pegasus spyware was installed on her phone months before Khashoggi’s death.

“It shocked me,” Elatr said, recounting the moment the Post’s investigative journalist Dana Priest announced her findings.

Following outrage came a legal threat. Elatr announced her intention to sue the spyware’s designer, the NSO Group, in order to learn more about how it got there. She also has petitioned the Turkish government to give her Khashoggi’s electronic devices for her legal team’s inspection. She and her attorney have asked President Joe Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to exert pressure on Ankara for that to happen.

“I’m not happy about the way that Turkey handle it,” Elatr said, adding that the country is “not cooperating” and needs to be “more transparent.”

After years of seemingly being written out of Khashoggi’s story, Elatr has become increasingly vocal in changing the perception of his legacy. The widow says that her late husband never viewed himself as a Saudi dissident — and she lashes out at a phenomenon she describes as “Jamal, Inc.,” the various interests she accuses of capitalizing on her late husband’s legacy.

“I was against what’s happening, [this] misusing of my husband’s tragedy, and it’s built up some kind of — we call it ‘Jamal, Inc.’ — who are making a personal benefit out of Jamal’s atrocity,” Elatr said.

In the immediate wake of Khashoggi’s murder, information about his death trickled out largely through Turkish government leaks. At the time, Turkey ranked as the world’s leading jailer of journalists, and the steady drips of information from the largely state-controlled media appeared to many observers to be part of that government’s efforts to ratchet up pressure on Saudi Arabia in a fight for regional dominance. Now that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are trying to mend their rift, Elatr’s struggle could be an uphill climb.

That’s why her attorney Fahmy is counting on their pressure campaign on Capitol Hill.

“Turkey has friends on Capitol Hill. They also have foes on Capitol Hill, both on the House and Senate side,” said Fahmy, noting that she used to work as a counselor to Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich). “So we’re going to make a full court press to go to Capitol Hill with these requests and hope that both the friends and foes of Turkey can convince them that it’s in their best interest, for U.S.-Turkish relations, to turn over those devices, especially since Jamal’s wife is here in the United States.”

As for the NSO Group, the Israeli-based company continued their strong denials.

“NSO has repeatedly stated that our technology was not associated in any way with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi or any of his family members, including Hanan Elatr,” the organization told Law&Crime.

Scoffing “they doth protest too much,” Fahmy reiterated her litigation threat: “We’re gonna prove otherwise in a U.S. court of law.”

Meanwhile, another federal lawsuit remains pending in a U.S. court filed by Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish woman who reported that Khashoggi went to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul to obtain the necessary document to marry her. One of the main defendants in that lawsuit, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is trying to leverage his recent appointment as the country’s prime minister to secure that lawsuit’s dismissal.

In their interviews, Elatr and Fahmy sharply questioned the portrait of Khashoggi painted by Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the non-profit group through which she is affiliated.

Though Cengiz featured prominently in The Dissident — an HBO documentary about Khashoggi’s life — Elatr said this misrepresented his legacy.

“Jamal Khashoggi, he died 100 times — 100 times — before second of October 2018,” Elatr said, adding that calling her late husband a “dissident” would make him cry. “Since he ran away from Saudi Arabia, he always used to cry every day.”

Cengiz did not respond to a request for comment sent thrown a DAWN representative.

Listen to the podcast below:

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."