Investigators on Friday questioned staff from the Saudi Consulate about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and explored whether his remains could have been dumped outside Istanbul after his suspected killing, Turkish media and a security official said.
Turkey’s foreign minister said his country would share some “evidence” with the rest of the world but rejected a report that it already has shared with the U.S. an alleged audio recording of the slaying of the columnist for The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia has rejected reports that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate as baseless, but it faces growing pressure to explain what happened to him after he entered the consulate Oct. 2 for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancée. He has not been seen since.
Turkish crime scene investigators this week searched the building and the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general and came out carrying bags and boxes. The 15 Turkish employees brought to give testimony included the consul general’s driver, technicians, accountants and telephone operators, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
A journalist for The Associated Press saw a group of people leaving the consulate in a van. Later in the day, the same people were seen in video from a courthouse, where Turkish media said they had given testimony.
A Turkish official told AP that investigators are looking into the possibility that Khashoggi’s remains may have been taken outside Istanbul. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, the official said police have established that two vehicles belonging to the consulate left the building Oct. 2. One traveled to the Belgrade Forest on the city’s outskirts, while the other went to the city of Yalova, across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul, the official said.
It was not immediately clear if police had already searched those locations.
Turkish officials have released few details about the investigation, but pro-government media have published surveillance video and other material suggesting Khashoggi, whose 60th birthday was Oct. 13, was killed by an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prominent journalist had written columns critical of the Saudi government while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying, said the squad immediately accosted the journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that it “certainly looks” as though Khashoggi is dead, and that the consequences for the Saudis “will have to be very severe” if they are found to have killed him. Trump, who has insisted that more facts must be known before making assumptions, did not say on what he based his latest statement about the writer’s likely demise.
Saudi Arabia has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the AP in recent days over Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Citing an anonymous senior Turkish official, ABC News reported Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heard the alleged recording during meetings in Turkey this week and received a transcript of it. Pompeo dismissed that report, telling reporters on a plane to Mexico that he’s neither seen nor heard such a recording.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denied sharing any audio recordings with U.S. officials, saying “it’s out of the question” for Turkey to share material from the investigation with the U.S. or other countries at this stage.
“Of course, as a result of the investigation so far, Turkey does have some information and evidence,” he said. “We will share them with the world when they become fully clear because the whole world, understandably, wants to know what happened to Khashoggi and how it happened.”
Earlier this week, Trump said the U.S. has asked for the recording “if it exists.”
Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper on Friday printed more surveillance camera photos showing members of the group of Saudis who arrived Oct. 2. A leaked surveillance photo published by the paper Thursday showed that a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage during several trips abroad had walked into the Saudi Consulate, just before Khashoggi vanished. The man, identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, has been photographed in the background of Prince Mohammed’s trips to the United States, France and Spain this year.
Khashoggi’s disappearance has rattled Saudi Arabia’s relations with the West. Senior government officials from the U.S., France, Britain and the Netherlands have withdrawn from a high-profile investment conference to be held next week in Riyadh. Several top business executives have also cancelled their plans to attend, as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Prime Minister Imran Khan would attend the conference and meet with Saudi King Salman. Khan has been trying to secure bailout loans from IMF to avoid an economic meltdown and is also seeking loans from Riyadh.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Bram Janssen, Suzan Fraser and Karl Ritter