Turkish sources have told the Washington Post that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by a “murder team” while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Khashoggi was a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and other western publications. He was a fierce critic of the Saudi regime.
A source described by Reuters as a “Turkish official” told the wire service, “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.”
Khashoggi, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Washington for the past year fearing retribution for his critical views on Saudi policies, entered the consulate on Tuesday to secure documentation for his forthcoming marriage, according to his fiancee, who waited outside. He has not been heard of since.
Since then, Turkish and Saudi officials have offered conflicting accounts of his disappearance, with Ankara saying there was no evidence that he had left the diplomatic mission and Riyadh saying he exited the premises the same day.
The Saudi government denies any involvement in his abduction or death. But while the consulate says that Khashoggi left the premises the same day he visited, his fiancee says he never came out.
Two Turkish sources told Reuters Turkish authorities believe Khashoggi was deliberately killed inside the consulate, a view echoed by one of Erdogan’s advisers, Yasin Aktay, who is also a friend of the Saudi journalist.
“My sense is that he has been killed…in the consulate,” Aktay said.
Erdogan said he was personally following the issue, without saying what he believed had happened to Khashoggi.
“Entries and exits into the embassy, airport transits and all camera records are being looked at and followed. We want to swiftly get results,” he said, adding without explanation: “My expectation is still positive.”
Khashoggi is a former advisor to Saudi intelligence and was highly critical of the kingdom’s war in Yemen as well as a recent crackdown on dissent.
“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice,” he wrote in September. “To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot.”
Two months later, writing about the detentions of scores of Saudi royals, senior officials and businessmen accused of corruption, he said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman dispensed “selective justice” and said there was “complete intolerance for even mild criticism” of the crown prince.
MBS, as the crown prince is known, has been trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the 21st century. His “modernization” steps are modest — like allowing women to drive. His foreign policy moves have been extremely aggressive, including his military support of the government in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and almost going to war with Qatar because of their support of the Iranian regime.
But like all autocrats, MBS can’t stand criticism of his policies. Dozens of prominent critics have been detained or jailed in recent months as the war in Yemen drags on and protests mount.
The Saudi government is not known for its gentle treatment of dissidents, but murdering one of the most prominent ones would be unprecedented. If Khashoggi is missing he was either abducted and spirited back to the kingdom, or felt his enemies in the Saudi government were getting too close and went into hiding.