Istanbul: Turkey said on Tuesday it will search the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as part of an investigation into the disappearance of a missing Saudi contributor to the Washington Post, a week after he vanished during a visit there.
The announcement came as a surveillance image surfaced of Jamal Khashoggi walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, just before he disappeared. Turkish officials have said they fear the columnist was killed at the premises.
This image taken from CCTV video claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.Credit:CCTV/Hurriyet via AP
Saudi Arabia has called the allegations that it killed 59-year-old Khashoggi "baseless" but has offered no evidence over the past seven days to show that he ever left the building.
Tuesday's statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Hami Aksoy, said Saudi authorities have notified Ankara that they were "open to co-operation" and would allow the consulate building to be searched. The ministry did not say when the premises would be searched.
Officials in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil and must be protected by host nations.
However, activists protesting outside the consulate said more needed to be done.
"The Saudi Consulate cannot absolve itself of responsibility for this incident by allowing its premises to be searched," said Gulseren Yoleri of the Human Rights Association. "It has to prove that Jamal wasn't oppressed at the consulate and that he left safely."
The surveillance image bore a date and time stamp, as well as a Turkish caption bearing Khashoggi's name and that he was arriving at the consulate. The Post, which first published the photo, said "a person close to the investigation" shared the image with them, without elaborating. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet also published the image.
The door Khashoggi walked in through appeared to be the main entrance of the consulate in Istanbul's 4th Levent neighbourhood, a leafy, upscale district near the city's financial hub that's home to several other consulates. However, the consulate has other entrances and exits as well, through which Saudi officials insist he left.
Missing: Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.Credit:AP
It's unclear which camera the footage came from, nor who operated it. However, a number of closed-circuit surveillance cameras surround the area. Friends of Khashoggi say Turkish police have taken possession of footage from the neighbourhood as part of their investigation.
The Saudis have offered no surveillance footage or evidence to corroborate their claims that Khashoggi left the consulate, nor have Turkish authorities offered proof to show why they believe the columnists was killed there.
"If the story that was told about the murder is true, the Turks must have information and videotape and other documents to back it up," Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, told AP. "If the story the Saudis are telling, that he just walked out … after half an hour, if that's true, they ought to have facts and documents and evidence and tapes to back that up."
Hiatt added that the "idea of a government luring one of its own citizens onto its own diplomatic property in a foreign country to murder him for the peaceful expression of his views would be unimaginable."
Khashoggi had gone to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee. He had been living since last year in the United States, in a self-imposed exile, in part due to the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman.
As a contributor to the Post, Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticising its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. All those issues have been viewed as being pushed by Prince Mohammed, who similarly has led roundups of activists, businessmen and others in the kingdom.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday urged the Saudis to back up their claim that Khashoggi left the consulate.
"Now when this person enters, whose duty is it to prove that he left or not? It is [the duty] of the consulate officials," Erdogan said during a visit to Hungary. "Don't you have cameras and other things? Why don't you prove it, you have to prove it."
Turkey summoned the Saudi ambassador on Sunday to request the kingdom's "full cooperation" in the investigation, a Foreign Ministry official said.
Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey's support for Qatar in its year-long dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Turkey sent food to Qatar and deployed troops at its military base there.
A Sunni power, Saudi Arabia is also annoyed by Ankara's rapprochement with the kingdom's Shiite arch-rival, Iran.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia faced increased scrutiny over Khashoggi's disappearance from officials in America, the kingdom's longtime ally. Even Donald Trump, who took his first overseas trip as US President to the kingdom and whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has close ties to Prince Mohammed, said he had concerns.
"I don't like hearing about it. And hopefully that will sort itself out," Trump said. "Right now, nobody knows anything about it, but there are some pretty bad stories going around. I do not like it."
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