Turkey sought permission Monday from Saudi Arabia to search Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, looking for clues to the disappearance of a Saudi Arabian journalist whom Turkish officials have concluded was murdered inside the diplomatic outpost.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last week that Riyadh was “ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises,” because it had “nothing to hide” about the missing journalist, 59-year-old Jamal Khashoggi.
But it was not immediately clear whether Turkish officials were granted access to the consulate after Monday’s request. Saudi officials say the Turkish investigators’ claim that Khashoggi was murdered are “baseless.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saudi officials need to prove that Khashoggi left the building after arriving last Tuesday to get a document for his upcoming marriage. His Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who waited for him outside the consulate, said he never came out of the building.
“We have to get an outcome from this investigation as soon as possible. The consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying, ‘He has left,'” Erdogan said on a visit to Budapest.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing writer who had been critical of the Salman government, has been living for a year in self-imposed exile in the United States after a Riyadh crackdown on dissent in the kingdom.
Turkish officials summoned the Saudi ambassador for the second time on Sunday, telling the envoy it expected “full cooperation” in its investigation.
Protesters gathered outside the Saudi consulate Monday demanding to know what had happened to Khashoggi. Banners read, “We will not leave without Jamal Khashoggi.”
The U.S. says it is “closely following” the investigation but has not confirmed Turkish officials’ conclusion that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Police said earlier that about 15 Saudis arrived in Istanbul on two flights last Tuesday and were at the consulate at the same time as Khashoggi.
U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he and other lawmakers “agree if there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government, it would be devastating to the U.S.-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid — economically and otherwise.”
Erdogan told reporters Sunday, “I am following the [incident] and we will inform the world whatever the outcome” of the official probe. “God willing, we will not be faced with a situation we do not want.”
Erdogan said police are looking at surveillance video of the consulate’s entrances and exits, as well as at the Istanbul airport.
A Turkish official told the Reuters news agency, “The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr. Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate.”
Reuters’ Turkish sources did not say how they thought Khashoggi was killed.
The Washington Post editorial board said Sunday that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States “bear inescapable responsibility” to act in response to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The board said Saudi Arabia has to identify the 15 officials who were at the consulate and exactly what happened inside. Turkey, it said, must back up its conclusion Khashoggi was killed by making public any evidence it has.
Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, Lynn Maalouf, said if the reports of Khashoggi’s killing are true, it “would be an abysmal new low” and “amount to an extrajudicial execution. This case sends a shockwave among Saudi Arabian human rights defenders and dissidents everywhere, eroding any notion of seeking safe haven abroad.”
A New York Times account reported Turan Kislakci, a friend of Khashoggi and head of the Turkish Arab Media Association, said Turkish officials had called him and confirmed two things — that Khashoggi was killed and his body was dismembered.
Multiple media reports say that the group of 15 Saudis descended on the consulate Tuesday and later left. Turkish officials are trying to identify them as part of their probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The New York Times account says its sources report the Saudis “had arrived to silence Mr. Khashoggi, but that it was not clear if the plan had been to bring him back to Saudi Arabia alive, and something went wrong, or if the intention was to kill him there.”