Turkish crime scene investigators waited nearly two weeks to enter the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was allegedly murdered by an assassination squad.
Within hours, they found evidence that confirmed such fears, a senior Turkish official told the Associated Press Tuesday, speaking anonymously as the investigation is ongoing.
The official gave no details on the evidence uncovered in the hours-long search, carried out by forensics technicians Monday night. It took place ahead of a planned second search on the residence of Saudi Consul Mohammed al-Otaibi, who flew out of Turkey Tuesday afternoon. Surveillance footage showed that Saudi diplomatic vehicles drove to Otaibi’s home shortly after Khashoggi went into the consulate on Oct. 2, but never came out. His fiancé was waiting for him outside, but she says she never saw him again.
The latest evidence from Istanbul further strains the Kingdom’s position on Khashoggi’s disappearance, which has shifted from outright denial to an impending acknowledgment of partial culpability. American media outlets reported Tuesday that the Saudis were preparing to admit that the journalist had died in the embassy during an interrogation that went wrong, framing the killing as a tragic accident.
Turkish officials say they believe Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi Crown Prince and a resident of the United States since last year, was murdered in the consulate and his body dismembered and removed.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that investigators believed the Saudis may have attempted to cover up evidence of the crime inside the consulate building.
“The investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Riyadh Tuesday for crisis talks with Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, over the issue. But his meeting lasted only 15 minutes and resulted in no criticism of the kingdom. Instead, Pompeo thanked the Saudis for a “thorough, transparent and timely investigation” into the disappearance.
After initially waging big threats against Saudi Arabia, President Trump and his team have toned down their criticism over the Khashoggi affair. On Monday Trump echoed the Saudis' view that “rogue killers” could be responsible.
Cover image: A still image taken from CCTV video and obtained by TRT World claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as he arrives at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey Oct. 2, 2018. Reuters TV/via REUTERS