Assassination Is As Old As Politics. But This One Is Different.

Assassinations of politicians, dissidents, opponents or critics are as old as civilisation itself.

From Gaius Julius Caesar in 44 BCE to Martin Luther King Jr in 1968, the murder of a political figure for power is an ancient tactic that's as efficient as it is cold-blooded.

Organising a hit on a political opponent is easier than going to war, and murdering a dissident is a pretty effective way to send a message to other would-be critics.

Governments worldwide have been using assassinations to consolidate power in increasing measure since the early 1970s, according to a study from the academic arm of the U.S. military.

It all makes the probable murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, inside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, all the more unusual.

Khashoggi was a dissident and journalist, and he was also a well-connected former political insider with close ties to the Saudi royal family.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been living in the United States in "self-imposed exile". Image: AAP

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It's looking more and more likely that Khashoggi was killed, beheaded and dismembered by more than a dozen Saudi agents who had flown in to the country specifically for that purpose, according to Turkish officials.

Saudi officials deny having anything to do with the journalist's disappearance more than two weeks ago.

But if it was a government-ordered hit on the notable critic of Saudi Arabia's regime, then it's a huge outlier in terms of what an assassination would 'usually' look like.

Broadly speaking, most assassinations -- successful, suspected, or attempted -- are done with a degree of stealth.

The Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov was assassinated on a London street via a poisoned bullet fired from an umbrella.

East German football star Lutz Eigendorf, who defected to West Germany, is suspected to have been assassinated in a suspicious car accident involving a truck turning on its high beams at the exact moment Eigendorf approached a sharp corner.

The CIA famously attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro by poisoning a box of his favourite cigars.

An undated photo of Bulgarian dissident, Georgi Markov, who is believed to have been assassinated by the Bulgarian Secret Service with the help of the KGB in 1978. Photo: AP.

Even the recent attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia contained all the elements of a 'traditional' assassination: false identities, concealed weapons, a public place.

So why, then, would the Saudi regime kill a dissident in a way so easily traceable to them?

"If they wanted to put together a plan that could point to their culpability, they couldn't have done it better," said the Lowy Institute's Lydia Khalil.

"They brought in Saudi nationals on a flight, they knew those movements would be tracked, it was done in the consulate... with so much irrefutable evidence, they could have done it in a much smarter way."

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There are two potential options: either the regime was trying to send a message to critics that they would be punished, or it was just a really badly thought out operation.

Khalil thinks it's possibly a combination of the two, a dangerous combination of unfettered power and human error that led to a geopolitical cock-up of epic proportions.

A Turkish crime scene investigation team member inspects the garage of the residence of the Consul General of Saudi Arabia as part of an investigation on the disappearance of Prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Image: Getty)

Saudi Arabia has cracked down on liberty and free speech before. But never in the ways we've seen Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) -- the effective power behind the throne -- do it, and with such international impunity.

Last year, he imprisoned members of the royal family inside Ritz-Carlton hotel and the world barely blinked.

"When you have so much power, and so much unchecked power, and all messages from allies are that no one is going to stop you... he probably thought, I'm not going to get any serious opposition," said Khalil.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Photo: Getty