ANKARA: Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Turkish authorities search the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate after prominent journalist and Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing last week, the Turkish foreign ministry said yesterday. “Saudi authorities said they were open to cooperation and that a search can be conducted at the consulate building,” the ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement. The search will take place as part of the official investigation, which was being conducted “in an intense manner”, he said without giving any date.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who wrote for Arab and Western media, vanished last Tuesday after visiting the consulate to obtain official documents. Turkish police were looking into two private aircraft which landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport last Tuesday at different times carrying 15 people of interest in the case, as well as the possibility that Khashoggi was kidnapped and taken aboard one of the planes, local media reported.
Previously Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that Riyadh would be ready to welcome Turkish officials to search the premises. Ankara sought permission Sunday to carry out a search after the foreign ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador for a second time, Turkish television reported. Riyadh’s envoy in Ankara was first called to the ministry on Wednesday. Khashoggi, a former Saudi government adviser, had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since last year fearing possible arrest. He has been critical of some policies of the crown prince and Riyadh’s intervention in the war in Yemen.
While Riyadh claimed he had left the consulate after his visit, Turkish police said Khashoggi did not emerge from the building. Government sources said police believe the journalist was killed inside the consulate. Police also said a team of 15 Saudis were sent to Istanbul and were in the building at the same time as Khashoggi. Turkish security officials were working to identify the 15 individuals, English-language state broadcaster TRT World reported, adding that Turkish officials believe the Saudis may have taken the consulate’s CCTV footage with them when they returned to Saudi Arabia.
According to pro-government daily Sabah, the team arrived in Istanbul on two private planes, one which landed after 0300 (0000 GMT) on Tuesday while the second plane landed around 1700 (1400 GMT) after Khashoggi entered the consulate. The individuals checked into two hotels close to the consulate, the daily said. Both planes later returned to Riyadh with one stopping in Dubai and the other in Egypt, Sabah reported, adding the police were looking into the possibility that Khashoggi was kidnapped.
The planes belonged to a company based in Saudi Arabia which has links to the state. Istanbul police experts were analyzing vehicles which entered and left the consulate, some of which were then seen on camera last Tuesday at the consul-general’s residence, 200 metres away, the daily said. The newspaper also claimed that Turkish employees at the residence were “hastily” told to take a holiday on the day Khashoggi went missing.
Britain urged the Saudi government to explain what happened. “Just met the Saudi ambassador to seek urgent answers over Jamal Khashoggi,” foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter. “Violence against journalists worldwide is going up and is a grave threat to freedom of expression. If media reports prove correct, we will treat the incident seriously – friendships depend on shared values,” he wrote.
US President Donald Trump said yesterday he had not yet spoken to Saudi officials about the case. Speaking at the White House, he said he did not know anything about Khashoggi’s disappearance and that he would speak with Saudi officials at some point. The United Nations human rights office urged both Turkey and Saudi Arabia to investigate what it called the “apparent enforced disappearance” and possible murder of Khashoggi.
“We call for cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the circumstances of Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance and to make the findings public,” UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a Geneva news briefing. The two countries have such an obligation under both criminal law and international human rights law, she said. The European Union fully supports US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called on Riyadh to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance, EU policy chief Federica Mogherini said. – Agencies