Turkey believes Saudi journalist was killed in consulate

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

Turkey has concluded that a missing Saudi journalist was murdered by a special hit squad inside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul. The prominent commentator was last seen entering the diplomatic mission.

Turkish officials believe that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was likely killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey's largest city, multiple news outlets reported on Sunday.

"The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr. Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate," anonymous sources told both Reuters and the Associated Press.

The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi wrote, cited unnamed sources to report that Turkish investigators believed a 15-member team "came from Saudi Arabia" to kill the man. "It was a preplanned murder."

Agence France-Presse was told: "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 close friend of Khashoggi told DPA news agency that police had informed him about their conclusions, saying his body was cut into pieces.

Saudi Arabia's consul-general rejected claims about a possible abduction, telling Reuters that his country was helping search for Khashoggi.

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Conflicting stories

Khashoggi disappeared after entering the diplomatic mission on Tuesday. Saudi officials insisted he left the building, but Turkey's government said all evidence suggested he was still inside.

Ankara launched an investigation earlier Saturday, vowing to find the journalist.

"A journalist disappearing like this in a secure country like the Republic of Turkey is something that will be followed up with sensitivity," ruling party spokesman Omer Celik said, according to the Anadolu news agency.

The Washington Post's editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement: "If the reports of Jamal's murder are 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."

Prominent kingdom critic

Khashoggi has lived in self-imposed exile in the US since 2017 fearing arrest for his critical views of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In columns published by The Washington Post, the 59-year-old has spoken out against the kingdom's policies toward Qatar and Canada, as well as the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemen conflict.

He went to the Saudi consulate to obtain an official document for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish partner.

Human rights groups have urged Riyadh to shed light on Khashoggi's whereabouts.

"The burden of proof is on Saudi Arabia to produce evidence for its claim that Khashoggi left the consulate alone, and that Saudi agents have not detained him," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.

Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Khashoggi's failure to emerge from the consulate "is a cause for alarm," given the Saudi authorities' pattern of "quietly detaining critical journalists."