ISTANBUL — With diplomatic tensions boiling over a missing and presumed dead Saudi journalist, a team of Turkish police waited outside the heavily guarded Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Tuesday as officials from the kingdom said they would agree to allow local authorities to search the premises.
The standoff caps a dramatic week that started when Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi writer, went on a routine trip to complete some simple paperwork. But after he walked into the Saudi Consulate last week, he never walked out.
The international murder mystery has sent shockwaves throughout the region as accusations fly over the disappearance of a Saudi citizen on the diplomatically immune grounds of Saudi Arabia’s compound in Istanbul.
Public CCTV images from the street outside the consulate showed Khashoggi entering it on Tuesday, but don’t show how he left. Saudi officials said their security cameras were not recording on the day of Khashoggi’s visit.
Turkish police are investigating whether Khashoggi’s body may have been hacked into pieces and removed in boxes loaded into black vans with diplomatic license plates, pro-government Turkish newspaper Sabah reported.
“We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate,” Turkish officials said Saturday.
“There’s some pretty bad stories going around — I do not like it,” President Trump told reporters at the White House Monday night after several U.S. senators warned of potential consequences for Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.
The Saudis have denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi, but the Turks are not convinced.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he is personally following the investigation, and told reporters “the consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying, ‘he has left.’”
Khashoggi is of the Arab world’s most prominent journalists. Over his decades-long career, he regularly appeared on television as a commentator on Middle East politics, and in 1988, he even interviewed U.S.-backed militants in the late-Cold War campaign against Soviet rule in Afghanistan. Among them was another Saudi citizen named Osama bin Laden, who would go on to become the infamous leader of al-Qaida and the mastermind of 9/11.
Before becoming a critic of the monarchy, Khashoggi had long been close to the Saudi elite, once serving as an advisor to the kingdom’s chief of intelligence. But he left Saudi Arabia in 2017 after an aggressive power grab by the young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and he began writing columns speaking out against the government.
Though initially applauded internationally as a reformer, the crown prince quickly showed his preference for ruling with an iron fist — purging disloyal royals on corruption charges, arresting scores of activists and women’s rights campaigners, and pursuing an unpopular and devastating war in Yemen.
“It was painful for me several years ago when several friends were arrested. I said nothing. I didn’t want to lose my job or my freedom,” Khashoggi wrote last September. “I have made a different choice now. I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice.”