A friend of a Washington Post journalist who went missing in Istanbul has said Turkish officials told him to make “funeral preparations” because the reporter “was killed” at the Saudi consulate.
Another official separately told the Associated Press that authorities believe Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the consulate, while another said it was a “high probability”.
Saudi officials have denied the allegations, calling them “baseless”.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “God willing, we will not be faced with the situation we do not desire,” when asked by journalists about Khashoggi.
The growing dispute over Khashoggi’s fate threatens relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey and raises new questions about the kingdom and the actions of its assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, about whom Khashoggi had written critically in his columns.
Turan Kislakci, a friend of Khashoggi and the head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association, spoke to the AP yesterday outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and said he believed Turkish officials would soon announce the findings of their investigation.
“What was explained to us is this: He was killed, make your funeral preparations,” Kislakci said. “We called a few other places, these are lower officials, but they said: ‘We have evidence he was killed in a barbaric way, we will announce it tomorrow or the day after’.”
Kislakci also alleged, based on conversations with officials he did not name, that Khashoggi was made to “faint” then was dismembered.
A Turkish official told the AP that an “initial assessment” by police concluded Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate.
Another official yesterday assessed it as “high probability” that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate and his body was removed.
The Post reported on the police’s theory late on Saturday, citing two anonymous sources.
“If the reports of Jamal’s murder are true, it is a monstrous and unfathomable act,” said the Post’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt.
“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.”
The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried a statement from the Istanbul consulate that “strongly denounced these baseless allegations” and said Saudi Arabia had sent a team of investigators to help look into the case.
Khashoggi, 59, went missing while on a visit to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee.
The consulate insists the writer left its premises, contradicting Turkish officials. He had been living since last year in the US in a self-imposed exile, in part due to the rise of Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman.
As a contributor to the Post, Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticising its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving.
All those issues have been viewed as being pushed by Prince Mohammed, who similarly has led round-ups of activists, businessmen and others in the kingdom.
Erdogan did not directly repeat the investigators’ fears about Khashoggi being dead when talking to reporters yesterday following a meeting of his Justice and Development Party in Ankara.
“Everything is being inspected, especially entries and exits out of Istanbul, the airport,” he said. “Right now we are waiting persistently to see what the prosecutor will decide, what it will announce as a result of these pursuits.”
Erdogan promised to follow up personally on the case of Khashoggi, whom he referred to as “a journalist and a friend”.
“It’s very, very sad for us that this happened in our country,” the Turkish president said.
The Saudi ambassador to Turkey was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, which requested Riyadh’s cooperation in an investigation over journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, it has emerged.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal met the Saudi ambassador yesterday, said an official at the ministry.
The private NTV television station said Turkey had requested permission to search the consulate building.
Downing Street said Britain was “working urgently” to discover the facts behind Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Theresa May’s official spokesman told reporters at a Westminster media briefing: “These are extremely serious allegations.
“We are aware of the latest reports and working urgently to establish the facts, including with the government of Saudi Arabia.”
Picture: Reuters/Osman Orsal