Jamal Khashoggi was living in self-imposed exile in Washington, fearful of reprisals following his criticisms of the Saudi regime.
The controversy over the reported murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul escalated over the weekend and on Monday with Turkish officials seeking a search of the premises. Khashoggi was last seen entering the consulate last Tuesday. Turkish authorities told the country’s press on Saturday that he had been murdered inside the building. Khashoggi was a fierce critic of the Saudi regime and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
After nearly a week of silence, the US responded on the issue with president Donald Trump expressing concern and secretary of state Mike Pompeo seeking a transparent investigation. The UK and France also released statements to this effect. All these countries have been strong allies of the Saudi regime and Crown Prince Mohammad.
Turkish police are reportedly examining the role of 15 Saudi nationals. Police said the 15 Saudi officials came to Istanbul on two private flights on Tuesday. They were also reportedly at the consulate at the same time as Khashoggi. Saudi authorities have acknowledged sending a “security delegation” to Turkey but have clarified that they had no links to the disappearance of Khashoggi.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the onus on proving Khashoggi’s departure from the consulate was on the Saudis. He had said on Sunday that he was following the issue closely and that the world would be informed of the outcome once the investigation was complete. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are traditional US allies and have close economic relations. However, in recent times, relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey and the US, have deteriorated over a variety of issues.
Over the weekend, a Turkish official told Reuters that, "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." A senior Turkish police source was also quoted by Middle East Eye as saying that the police believed that Khashoggi was “brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces” inside the consulate on Tuesday.
Khashoggi went to the consulate on Tuesday for an appointment with officials regarding some documents he needed for his forthcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee. His fiancee waited for eleven hours for him to emerge out of the consulate.
Khashoggi had reportedly instructed his fiancee to call Yasin Aktay, a former AKP MP, if he did not come out of the consulate within a few hours. Aktay told CNN Turk on Sunday that the country’s authorities had ‘concrete information’ regarding this matter and that it wouldn’t remain an unresolved crime. He also pointed out that Turkish authorities were unable to determine Khashoggi’s exit from the consulate, noting the absence of any camera footage to confirm the same, even as Saudi officials insisted that he left after some time.
The Saudis strongly denied the allegations, with the state-run Saudi Press Agency carrying a Istanbul consulate statement on Sunday morning. In the statement, the consulate strongly denounced these “baseless allegations”, and questioned whether they came from Turkish officials who were involved in the probe, and whether were authorized to speak about it.
Khashoggi was living in self-imposed exile in Washington for the past year, fearing retribution for his criticism of the Saudi regime and its policies. He had once been very close to the regime and enjoyed very good relations with the royal family. He had also served as a close aide and adviser to the former Saudi intelligence chief, Turki Al-Faisal.
He worked in various prominent Saudi dailies and newspapers, including state-owned ones, such as the Saudi Gazette, al-Madina, al-Watan and Al-Arab. In between, he served as media adviser to Al-Faisal, the former spy chief who was at that time the ambassador to the US. After leaving the country, Khashoggi wrote regular opinions column for the Washington Post, and participated in debates on news channels.
On Friday, crown prince Mohammad told Bloomberg that Turkish authorities were welcome to search the consulate as they had “nothing to hide”.