Turkey asks to search Saudi consulate in journalist murder probe

Turkey asks to search Saudi consulate in Istanbul to investigate claims journalist was tortured and murdered inside – as his family say they’ve never heard of fiancée who raised the alarm

  • Jamal Khashoggi, 59, disappeared after entering Saudi consulate on Tuesday
  • Turkish police believe the notorious Saudi government critic was murdered
  • Saudis have denied the claims and said he went missing after he left building
  • Turkish investigators have asked to search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul 

The Turkish government has asked to search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after claiming a missing Saudi journalist was assassinated in the building.  

Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi Gazette and Washington Post reporter who is notoriously critical of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, has not been seen since he entered the consulate on Tuesday.

In an extraordinary accusation that risks diplomatic crisis, Turkish officials said the 59-year-old was ‘tortured, murdered and cut to pieces’ in a targeted hit by the Saudi government.

His disappearance was first raised by his Turkish fiancée but Khashoggi’s family in Saudi Arabia have now claimed via a lawyer that they’ve never heard of her, according to local press.

The Saudis have also denied the claims that Khashoggi has been murdered and the Consul General even showed reporters around the consulate, bizarrely opening cupboards as if to prove the journalist was not being held in the building. 

Missing: Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi government, has not been seen since Tuesday

Devastated fiance or lying Turkish pawn? Questions have been raised about the journalist’s Turkish fiance Hatice Cengiz, 36

Look, he’s not in here: This is the bizarre moment Saudis consul General in Istanbul, Mohammad al-Otaib, showed reporters around the consulate as if to prove the journalist was not there

Today, Turkish officials demanded permission to give the consulate a thorough search and summoned the Saudi ambassador in Ankara to request ‘full cooperation’.

Khashoggi apparently went to the consulate to get a document certifying he had divorced his ex-wife so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz, 36, who raised the alarm of his disappearance.

But on Monday his eldest son said he has never heard of the woman, implying she is a Turkish pawn in a calculated political game. 

‘I do not know this woman and I have never heard of her except through the media,’ Salah Khashoggi told private Saudi news website Al Arabiya.

The family lawyer said: ‘We do not know her, we do not know from where she came and she is not connected to the family, and her statements and presence might be to push her own agenda.’ 

Bizarre: Consul General of Saudi Arabia Mohammad al-Otaibi gives a tour of Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul as if to prove the missing journalist was not there

In an extraordinary accusation that risked diplomatic crisis, Turkish officials said the 59-year-old was ‘tortured, murdered and cut to pieces’ in the consulate (pictured)

Turkish police erected barricades outside the Saudi Arabia Consulate last week

Criticising Turkey, the lawyer, Motasem Khashoggi, added: ‘We know the objectives behind electronic media and frenzied news outlets that attack our country for negative purposes. We tell these people to remain silent as their purposes and intentions have failed.’ 

‘We trust the government and the actions taken by it and all the efforts being made in the case of Jamal Khashoggi. There’s coordination with the government and the embassy in Ankara.’

It is not clear if the family has been put under any pressure by Saudi officials to say that they trust the government.

Today a Turkish official said Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Ankara had been summoned to the foreign ministry for a second time on Sunday and had been asked by Turkish diplomats for ‘full coordination’ on the matter.  

Turkish police believe Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, a government source said, but Riyadh denied the claim 

Khashoggi had been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policies

Over the weekend, Turkish police said they believe Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate. The Saudis said the journalist disappeared after leaving the building on Tuesday afternoon. 

Khashoggi, who has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policies, was brutally tortured before he was murdered, a police source claimed to Middle East Eye.

‘Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country,’ the source said.

Police said earlier that around 15 Saudis, including officials, arrived in Istanbul on two flights on Tuesday and were at the consulate at the same time as Khashoggi.

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‘Based on their initial findings, the police believe that the journalist was killed by a team especially sent to Istanbul and who left the same day,’ a government source said on Saturday.

Ankara announced on Saturday it had opened an official probe into his disappearance. Turkey is closely monitoring the Saudi Consulate and Istanbul’s airports, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

Mr Erdogan said he is still hopeful that Mr Khashoggi is alive.

‘God willing we will not be faced with the situation we do not desire,’ he added, calling Mr Khashoggi a ‘journalist and a friend’. 

Khashoggi reportedly went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday, but never came back out again

Officials leave the Saudi Arabian Consulate following accusations that Khashoggi was murdered inside the building earlier this week

Saudi officials gather outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul today

The state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted an unnamed official at the Istanbul consulate as denying the reports of Khashoggi’s murder.

‘The official strongly denounced these baseless allegations,’ the agency wrote. It said a team of Saudi investigators were in Turkey working with local authorities.

Reacting to the news, the journalist’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, said on Twitter she was ‘waiting for an official confirmation from the Turkish government to believe it’.

Officials seen leaving  the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul on Sunday. A friend of the Saudi journalist said officials told him to ‘make your funeral preparations’

In his newspaper columns for the Washington Post,  Khashoggi has been critical of some policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Riyadh’s intervention in the war in Yemen.

The former government adviser, who turns 60 on October 13, has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since last year to avoid possible arrest. 

Writing in the Washington Post in February this year, he stated that ‘writers like me, whose criticism is offered respectfully, seem to be considered more dangerous than the more strident Saudi opposition based in London’.

He also said that the campaign for the country to back the Crown Prince’s ‘Vision 2030’- the policies he hopes will usher in a more prosperous future – ‘has sucked the oxygen from the once-limited but present public square’.

Fred Hiatt, the director of the Washington Post’s editorial page, said if the reports were true ‘it is a monstrous and unfathomable act’.

‘Jamal was – or, as we hope, is – a committed, courageous journalist. He writes out of a sense of love for his country and deep faith in human dignity and freedom,’ Hiatt said in a statement on the US newspaper’s website.

Yasin Aktay, an official in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who was close to the journalist, said Khashoggi had made an appointment in advance with the consulate and called to check the documents were ready.

Support: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ‘God willing, we will not be faced with the situation we do not desire’, and described Khashoggi as a friend

In his opinion articles, Khashoggi has been critical of some policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Riyadh’s intervention in the war in Yemen

‘His friends had warned him, ‘Don’t go there, it is not safe,’ but he said they could not do anything to him in Turkey,’ said Aktay.

He added that he still hoped the reports of his friend’s death were untrue.

Britain ‘must stand up to Saudi Arabia’, says shadow chancellor 

Britain must stand up to Saudi Arabia after a journalist was allegedly murdered in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said.

Labour’s Mr McDonnell told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘If the information that’s coming out is true, it is absolutely appalling. It’s unacceptable.

‘We, along with other nations now, should stand up to the Saudi government and make sure they know it is unacceptable, and if this means taking action in some form, we should take those actions.

‘I’ve been on a number of demonstrations when the Saudi regime have sent representatives here because of human rights abuses and if this is another example of that, we’ve got to be much firmer.’ 

Prince Mohammed said in an interview published by Bloomberg on Friday that the journalist had left the consulate and Turkish authorities could search the building, which is Saudi sovereign territory.

‘We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises,’ he said. ‘We have nothing to hide.’

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Wednesday summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador over the issue.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded Riyadh give ‘a full and credible account’ of what happened to Khashoggi inside the consulate.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Twitter that if reports of his death were confirmed, ‘this would constitute a horrific, utterly deplorable, and absolutely unacceptable assault on press freedom’.

OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Desir said on Twitter that he was ‘shocked’ by the claims.

‘If confirmed, that’s an unprecedented crime against journalists. I trust Turkey authorities will unveil details. Those responsible for this horrific crime must face justice,’ Desir added.

A spokesperson for the US State Department said it could not confirm the reports but was ‘closely following the situation’.

The British Foreign Office said in a statement it was ‘working urgently’ to verify the ‘extremely serious’ allegations.

Turan Kislakci (right) head of Turkish-Arab Media Association talks to members of the media regarding his missing friend Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi

Khashoggi fled from Saudi Arabia in September 2017, months after Prince Mohammed was appointed heir to the throne, amid a campaign that saw dozens of dissidents arrested including intellectuals and Islamic preachers.

The journalist said he had been banned from writing in the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper, owned by Saudi prince Khaled bin Sultan al-Saud, over his defence of the Muslim Brotherhood which Riyadh has blacklisted as a terrorist organisation.

He has also criticised Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen, where Riyadh leads a military coalition fighting alongside the government in its war with Iran-backed rebels.

Saudi Arabia, which ranks 169th out of 180 on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, has launched a modernisation campaign since Prince Mohammed’s appointment as heir to the throne.

The ultra-conservative kingdom in June lifted a ban on women driving. But it has drawn heavy criticism for its handling of dissent.

Khashoggi’s criticism of Prince Mohammed’s policies have appeared in both the Arab and Western press.

Ankara announced Saturday it had opened an official probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance

Vanished without a trace: Who is Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi? 

Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who disappeared last week after a visit to his country’s consulate in Turkey, was once a Saudi insider.

A close aide to the kingdom’s former spy chief, he had been a leading voice in the country’s prominent dailies, including the main English newspapers.

Now the 59-year-old journalist and contributor to The Washington Post is feared dead, and Turkish authorities believe he was slain inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, something Saudi officials vehemently deny.

The US-educated Khashoggi was no stranger to controversy.

A graduate of Indiana State University, Khashoggi began his career in the 1980s, covering the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the decade-long war that followed for the English-language daily Saudi Gazette. He traveled extensively in the Middle East, covering Algeria’s 1990s war against Islamic militants, and the Islamists rise in Sudan.

The former government adviser, pictured outside the BBC in London, has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since last year to avoid possible arrest.

He interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before al-Qaida was formed, then met him in Sudan in 1995. Following bin Laden’s rise likely helped cement Khashoggi’s ties with powerful former Saudi spy chief, Turki Al-Faisal.

Khashoggi rubbed shoulders with the Saudi royal family and supported efforts to nudge the kingdom’s entrenched ultra-conservative clerics to accept reforms. He served as an editor for nine years on the Islamist-leaning al-Madina newspaper and was frequently quoted in the Western media as an expert on Islamic radicals and a reformist voice.

However, he was fired from his post as an editor at Al-Watan, a liberal paper founded after the 9/11 terror attacks, just two months after he took the job in 2003. The country’s ultra-conservative clerics had pushed back against his criticism of the powerful religious police and Ibn Taymiyah, a medieval cleric viewed as the spiritual forefather of Wahhabism, the conservative interpretation of Islam that is the founding tenant of the kingdom.

Khoshaggi then served as media adviser to Al-Faisal, the former spy chief, who was at the time the ambassador to the United States.

Khashoggi returned to Al-Watan in 2007, where he continued his criticism of the clerics as the late King Abdullah implemented cautious reforms to try to shake their hold. Three years later, he was forced to resign again after a series of articles criticizing Salafism, the ultra-conservative Sunni Islam movement from which Wahhabism stems.

In 2010, Saudi billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal tapped him to lead his new TV station, touted as a rival to Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera, a staunch critic of the kingdom. But the new Al-Arab station, based in Bahrain, was shut down hours after it launched, for hosting a Bahraini opposition figure.

Khoshaggi’s final break with the Saudi authorities followed the Arab Spring protests that swept through the region in 2011, shaking the power base of traditional leaders and giving rise to Islamists, only to be followed by unprecedented crackdowns on those calling for change. 

A close aide to the kingdom’s former spy chief, he had been a leading voice in the country’s prominent dailies, including the main English newspapers

Siding with the opposition in Egypt and Syria, Khashoggi became a vocal critic of his own government’s stance there and a defender of moderate Islamists, which Riyadh considered an existential threat.

‘This was a critical period in Arab history. I had to take a position. The Arab world had waited for this moment of freedom for a thousand years,’ Khashoggi told a Turkey-based Syrian opposition television station last month, just days before he disappeared.

He also criticized his government’s diplomatic break with Qatar and war on Yemen as well as Riyadh’s policy toward its archenemy, Iran, whose influence has grown in neighboring Yemen and in Syria.

In the Sept. 23 interview, he called Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy ‘narrow minded,’ and ridiculed its crackdown on political Islam, urging the kingdom to realign its policy to partner with Turkey, a close Qatar ally.

‘Saudi is the mother and father of political Islam. It is based on political Islam,’ Khoshaggi said. ‘The only recipe to get Iranians out of Syria – it is not Trump or anyone else- it is through the support of the Syrian revolution. … Saudi Arabia must return to supporting the Syrian revolution and partnering with Turkey on this.’

Eight days later, on October 2, he disappeared while on a visit to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee. The consulate insists the writer left its premises alive, contradicting Turkish officials.

Before his disappearance, Khoshaggi had been living since last year in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, after he fled the kingdom amid a crackdown on intellectuals and activists who criticized policies of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

‘As of now, I would say Mohammed bin Salman is acting like Putin. He is imposing very selective justice,’ Khashoggi wrote in the Post last year after he fled the kingdom, saying he feared returning home.

He described ‘dramatic’ scenes of arrest of government critics accused of receiving Qatari funding. They included a friend of Khashoggi’s who had just returned from a trip to the U.S. as part of an official Saudi delegation.

‘That is how breathtakingly fast you can fall out of favor with Saudi Arabia,’ he wrote. 

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