Turkey believes journalist murdered at Saudi consulate

Concern continues to mount after dissident commentator Jamal Khashoggi vanishes

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi had a complicated relationship with Saudi authorities. Photograph: Reuters

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi had a complicated relationship with Saudi authorities. Photograph: Reuters

 

Turkey believes a missing Saudi journalist was murdered at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, according to two people familiar with the investigation into his disappearance.

Jamal Khashoggi, a high-profile commentator, vanished after visiting his country’s diplomatic mission on Tuesday, prompting international concern for his safety.

The initial findings of an investigation conducted by Turkish authorities concluded that a team of people that included Saudi officials flew into Turkey the same day as his appointment, a senior Turkish government official said late on Saturday.

The official said that the team was involved in killing the journalist, who has 1.6 million Twitter followers and a regular column in the Washington Post, in what Turkey believes was a premeditated attack before leaving the country.

A close friend of Mr Khashoggi also said that he had been informed by Turkish government officials of their view that the writer had been killed at the consulate.

Further details to emerge

A Saudi official at the consulate in Istanbul dismissed the reports as baseless, according to the official Saudi news agency on Sunday. The official said a delegation of investigators had arrived in Istanbul on Saturday to assist investigations into Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Omer Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling party, had said earlier on Saturday that Turkey would unveil further details about the situation of what he called “the lost journalist”. He said that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, would speak at a meeting of party officials on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly insisted that Mr Khashoggi, who went into self-imposed exile in the US last year, left the consulate building after entering by appointment to collect documents for his forthcoming marriage.

Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said in an interview with Bloomberg this week that the kingdom had “nothing to hide” and invited Turkish authorities to search the consulate building.

The Saudi consul general in Istanbul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, invited the Reuters news agency for a tour of the six-storey premises on Saturday, opening cupboards and panels covering air conditioning units in a bid to disprove Turkish claims that he was still in the building.

Mr al-Otaibi said that, although the consulate was equipped with security cameras, they did not record footage and so could not provide images of Mr Khashoggi entering or leaving the building. But he said the suggestion that Mr Khashoggi had been abducted at the consulate was “disgusting” and based on “rumours that have no proof”.

A Saudi official enters the door of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
A Saudi official enters the door of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Turkey’s presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on Wednesday that Turkey believed Mr Khashoggi was still in the consulate, adding: “We don’t have any information to the contrary”.

The killing of an internationally renowned journalist would represent a big escalation in Riyadh’s crackdown on dissent. Saudi authorities arrested dozens of activists, clerics and intellectuals in September 2017, accusing them of pushing an extremist agenda.

Mr Khashoggi, who had a complicated relationship with Saudi authorities, had grown increasingly critical of their actions. The journalist, who moved to the US last year after becoming concerned about his safety, had been nervous about visiting the consulate, according to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. But he had also told her that he did not believe that Saudi Arabia would dare to do anything to him on Turkish soil.

She told the Financial Times this week that she feared he had been kidnapped by Saudi officials.

Fraught relationship

Ms Cengiz wrote on Twitter on Saturday night: “Jamal is not dead! I don’t believe he’s been killed!” She later added that she was waiting for official confirmation from the government.

The accusation that he was murdered is likely to place heavy pressure on the already strained ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two regional powers that were already at odds over Ankara’s backing for Qatar in the face of an economic embargo led by Riyadh.

It will also trigger fresh scrutiny of Washington’s support for the Gulf kingdom. Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in the region.– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018