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Saudis to allow Turkey to search consulate for Khashoggi evidence

Pressure piles on the kingdom to release evidence it did not murder the prominent journalist, as Donald Trump finally weighs in
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yemeni Tawakkol Karman (R), flanked by Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour (L), holds pictures of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia will allow Turkish investigators into its Istanbul consulate to probe the disappearance and alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkey's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

"Saudi authorities said they were open to cooperation and that a search can be conducted at the consulate building," the ministry's spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a statement, adding that the search will be conducted in "an intensive manner".

Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and critic of the Saudi government, disappeared after entering his country's consulate on 2 October.

Turkish authorities have told Middle East Eye they believe Khashoggi was killed soon after entering the building.

The Washington Post released on Tuesday what appears to be the last-known photograph of Khashoggi, walking into the Saudi consulate from which he apparently never left.

The image bears a date and time stamp saying it was taken on 2 October, when the Post’s columnist entered the consulate to obtain divorce papers.

The image was given to the Post by someone close to the Turkish investigation, and released by the US daily soon after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the Saudis to prove he left the consulate unharmed.

Riyadh has denied Khashoggi was killed or detained on its Istanbul premises, and claims that the veteran journalist left the consulate shortly after entering.

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The Saudis have offered no evidence that he did leave.

"Mere words are not enough evidence" to dispute the allegations that Khashoggi had been killed, Erdogan said on Monday.

“We have to get an outcome from this investigation as soon as possible. The consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying 'he has left,'" the Turkish president added.

"We have been working on it since they came to us, our intelligence and police department have been working on it. Our aim is to reach a conclusion. We look at the media and see various reports that make us think about it. We have to get a conclusion as soon as possible."

Suspicious vehicles

The bulk of Turkey's investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance so far has centred around examining CCTV footage.

Turkish sources told MEE that police have been looking at footage from around 150 cameras to pin down the movements of three vehicles that authorities deem particularly suspicious.

Local and international media have reported that two private jets, which arrived and left on the day of Khashoggi's disappearence, and their passengers are being investigated.

According to Turkish media, seven Saudis arrived at the consulate on 2 October at 12.30am. Khashoggi then entered at 1.15. Forty-five minutes later, the seven suspects left the consulate in the same three cars. The vehicles then split up, with one car going one way and two going another.

A Turkish source told MEE that the two that stayed together are under particular suspicion.

Another source close the the investigation said 15 Saudis that visited the consulate that day and left the country are all under suspicion. Turks and civilians that visited the building too are all being treated as suspects, the source said.

Doors of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. (AP)
According to a senior Turkish police source, police believe that Khashoggi was "brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces".

"Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country," the police source told MEE.

Turkish sources following the investigation are unsure, however, about what happened to Khashoggi's body. One line of investigation is looking into the possibility his dismembered body may have been transported away from the consulate in the three vehicles now being looked into.

According to the sources, the Turkish police have followed the cars' movements using CCTV footage - starting from the camera outside the consulate.

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At the areas in which the vehicles stopped - which were all CCTV blackspots - the police have recorded the time they paused in the locations, the sources said.

There is another theory being pursued by the police, however: that the 15 Saudis were experts on removing all the traces and “footprints” of murder scenes.

According to MEE's sources, police are looking into the possibility that Khashoggi's body was destroyed on-site, maybe even burnt to ashes that could be easily disposed of.

Sources told MEE that Saudi Arabia's reluctance to let any Turkish officials or media into the consulate for five days has prompted Turkey to place emphasis on this possibility.

Growing pressure

As Khashoggi’s disappearance drags on, more countries have been moved to comment on the case.

The Washington Post said on Sunday that the US should “demand answers” from its close allies the Saudis, and after a long, much-criticised period of silence, the White House responded to the allegations on Monday.

I don’t like hearing about it. Hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now nobody knows anything about it

- Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump said he was “concerned” about the reports of Khashoggi’s murder.

“I don’t like hearing about it,” Trump said. “Hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now nobody knows anything about it.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded on Monday too, issuing a statement urging "the government of Saudi Arabia to support a thorough investigation of Mr Khashoggi's disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation".

Canada, which is embroiled in a diplomatic spat with Riyadh over concern it expressed over Saudi Arabia's crackdown on women's rights activists, expressed concern over Khashoggi's disappearance on Sunday.

"We are aware of and concerned by these reports. Canadian officials are actively seeking more information," a spokesperson for the Canadian foreign minister said.

Left behind

Friends, loved ones and activists have been gathering outside the consulate since Khashoggi's disappearance.

On Monday, Nobel Laureate and Yemeni peace activist Tawakkol Karman told AFP news agency outside the consulate that if reports of the journalist's demise did turn out to be correct, it would be an "awful crime".

"Killing him is like killing us. This policy is just a terror policy. There's no difference between the state terror and other terror actions," she said.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancee, described her anguish and the moments she realised the journalist was missing.

“I no longer feel like I am really alive,” she told the Post. “I can’t sleep. I don’t eat.”

Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz outside the Saudi consulate. (AFP)
Cengiz said she was presented with the image now released by the US daily by Turkish police soon after Khashoggi's disappearance to confirm it was him in the photo. She said it was - the figure was wearing the same blue jacket that she had last seen him in, shortly before he entered the consulate.

Khashoggi - who had been living in a self-imposed exile after angering the Saudi authorities - was visiting the consulate to obtain proof of his divorce so he could marry Cengiz according to Turkish law.

The journalist reportedly told his fiancee to call a top aide of Erdogan's and close friend if he didn't return.

“He said at some point, ‘Maybe it’s better if I don’t go,’” Cengiz told the Post. “He was worried that something might happen.”

According to the newspaper, Cengiz approached a guard at the consulate's door when she became concerned he had not left, and called to ask about his whereabouts. Then a man came to the entrance.

“There’s no one inside,” he reportedly told her.