Turkey Asks Permission to Search Saudi Consulate in Istanbul

Published October 8th, 2018 - 11:53 GMT
Saudi officials gather outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul today. (AFP/File)
Saudi officials gather outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul today. (AFP/File)

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

Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi Gazette and Washington Post reporter notoriously critical of the Saudi government, has not been seen since he entered the consulate on Tuesday.

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

The Saudis denied the claims and the Consul General even showed reporters around the embassy, bizarrely opening cupboards as if to prove the journalist was not being held in the building.

Today, Turkish officials demanded permission to give the embassy a thorough search of their own.

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.'

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.

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.

'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'.

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'.

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.

'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.

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.

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.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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