Turkey concludes Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi killed by ‘murder’ team inside consulate, sources say
Explosive allegation threatens already-fraught relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as raising questions about the kingdom and its assertive crown prince
Turkey has concluded that Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent journalist from Saudi Arabia, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this week by a team sent “specifically for the murder”, two people with knowledge of the probe said.
Turkish investigators believe a 15-member team “came from Saudi Arabia. It was a pre-planned murder,” said one of the people. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
They offered no specific evidence to back up the account.
Turkey’s president said he was personally involved in the case and is holding out hope for him.
“As president, I am pursuing,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday in televised comments in Ankara. “We’re waiting for the prosecutor’s statement. My expectation is still well-meant. I hope we won’t encounter an undesirable situation.”
On Saturday, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency said Istanbul public prosecutor’s office had opened a probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency, quoting an unnamed official at the Istanbul consulate, denied the reports of Khashoggi’s murder.
“The official strongly denounced these baseless allegations,” the agency wrote, adding that a team of Saudi investigators were in Turkey working with local authorities.
In an interview with Bloomberg last week, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Khashoggi had left the consulate shortly after he arrived on Tuesday.
Saudi officials have yet to provide any evidence for that assertion.
The Saudi consul-general in Istanbul allowed reporters from the Reuters news agency to tour the consulate on Friday, to show that Khashoggi was not on the premises.
“I would like to confirm that … Jamal is not at the consulate nor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the consulate and the embassy are working to search for him,” the consul-general, Mohammed al-Otaibi, was quoted as saying.
Khashoggi’s disappearance has drawn attention to Prince Salman’s crackdowns on his critics. It also threatened to deepen a rift between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both regional powers that have competed for influence in the region.
Khashoggi, who writes for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, visited the consulate Tuesday to obtain documents related to his upcoming wedding, according to his fiancée and friends.
Reacting to news of the alleged murder, the journalist’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said on Twitter she “did not believe he has been killed”.
The killing, if confirmed, would mark a stunning escalation of Saudi Arabia’s effort to silence dissent. Under direction from the crown prince, Saudi authorities have carried out hundreds of arrests under the banner of national security, rounding up clerics, business executives and even women’s rights advocates.
But analysts said Khashoggi might have been considered especially dangerous by the Saudi leadership because he was not a long-time dissident, but rather a pillar of the Saudi establishment who was close to its ruling circles for decades, had worked as an editor at Saudi news outlets and had been an adviser to a former Saudi intelligence chief.
Over the last year, Khashoggi had repeatedly criticised the Saudi leadership, including the arrests of female right’s activists who had campaigned to allow women the right to drive.
In his Bloomberg interview, Mohammed acknowledged the scale of the arrest campaign, saying that about 1,500 people had been detained over the past three years, but he portrayed the suspects as national security threats rather than political opponents.
“Most of their cases have nothing to do with freedom of speech and most of them will return to their homes when the process is finished,” he said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse