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Khashoggi probe: Turkish forensics team to search consul-general's residence

Source tells MEE the consulate has been meticulously searched, with particular attention focused on soil samples from the garden
The residence of Saudi Arabia's Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi is pictured in Istanbul. (Reuters)

Turkish investigations into the presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul resumed on Tuesday, with investigators due to enter the consul-general’s house nearby.

On Monday, a team of Turkish investigators and forensics experts entered the consulate 13 days after the prominent Saudi journalist was last seen walking into the building.

They spent nine hours searching the building, security sources told Middle East Eye, and took samples of soil from the garden.

According to the sources, these samples will be a priority of the investigation.

'We got everything we wanted and took it with us out of the consulate to continue investigation'

- Turkish source

Sources have told MEE that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered after he entered the consulate on 2 October.

Turkish authorities have told MEE that they have video and audio recordings of the journalist’s alleged murder, and found evidence of blood in the consulate’s sewage system before being allowed into the consulate.

A Turkish source involved in the investigation told MEE the probe on Monday had been meticulous.

“We went inside all the rooms, without any exceptions. We got into the exclusively protected rooms with high-level security where they have their cryptosystems, also the rooms which are secured against any audio recordings,” the source said.

“We got everything we wanted and took it with us out of the consulate to continue investigation. We didn’t dig the garden but searched it with dogs and took some samples.”

According to the source, the investigators took hammers to some walls and flooring to explore behind them.

Turkish investigators had been poised to enter the consulate for days, however the Saudis rescinded their offer of cooperation after the identities of a “hit squad” of 15 Saudis suspected of being involved in Khashoggi’s murder were leaked to the press.

There was also disagreement over whether investigators would be allowed into the consulate-general’s house.

Although the Saudis acquiesced to Turkish demands to probe the consulate and consul-general’s house, investigators were not allowed into the residency last night.

Talks between the Turkish foreign ministry and the Saudi diplomatic mission in Ankara resulted in Riyadh vowing to allow a probe into the consul-general's home.

A Turkish team is set to enter the building this aftenoon, "unless something else comes up from the Saudi side", a source said.

Shifting story

Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.

On Monday it appeared the Saudis were set to change their story and say that Khashoggi was killed in a botched interrogation.

King Salman opened an internal investigation into the prominent government critic’s disappearance over the weekend, and on Monday US President Donald Trump said “rogue killers” may be behind it after speaking to the Saudi leader by phone.

CNN reported that the Saudis are soon to announce that the operation was carried out without clearance from top officials in the government – namely Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and his circle.

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However, three of the 15 Saudi suspects are members of MBS’s personal bodyguard, Turkish sources have told MEE.

Khashoggi himself told MEE shortly before his death that one of MBS’s closest aides had personally told the journalist in 2017 that he had angered the top echelons of the Saudi royal court and was banned from tweeting and writing.

Remarks Khashoggi made last year at the Washington Institute think tank about the Saudi government’s relationship with the Trump administration appear behind the veteran journalist's fallout with the royal court.

Following his writing ban, Khashoggi left the kingdom, joining the Washington Post as a columnist and living between the US capital and Istanbul.

As a Virginia resident and Post columnist, Khashoggi’s disappearance has drawn the White House into the Saudi-Turkish standoff.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held crisis talks with King Salman in Riyadh, as the kingdom tried to quash the fallout from the presumed murder.

The US State Department said Pompeo expressed concern about Khashoggi's fate in the meeting. America's top diplomat later met with MBS, too.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh. (AP)
A Turkish security source told MEE that investigators were waiting to see whether the Saudis would officially change their story and the extent they would admit culpability for Khashoggi’s death before releasing evidence found in the consulate.

Turkish sources have told MEE that they do not trust the Saudis, and expect them to hinder the investigation.

The Saudis repainted the consulate’s interior following Khashoggi’s disappearance, a top Turkish official told MEE.

On Monday, before the investigators moved in, professional cleaners were seen entering the consulate through the front door.

The United Nations's human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said on Tuesday that diplomatic immunity should be lifted so that investigations into Khashoggi's disappearance can be as thorough as possible.

“Given there seems to be clear evidence that Mr Khashoggi entered the consulate and has never been seen since, the onus is on the Saudi authorities to reveal what happened to him from that point onwards,” she added.

Bachelet stopped short of calling for an independent international investigation, unlike Khashoggi's family, who late on Monday released a statement after a long period of silence.

“We are sadly and anxiously following the conflicting news regarding the fate of our father after losing contact with him two weeks ago, when he disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Our family is traumatized, and yearns to be together during this painful time," the statement said.

"The strong moral and legal responsibility which our father instilled in us obliges us to call for the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death. We are grateful to all those who have respected our privacy during these difficult times."