Turkey to search Saudi Consulate for missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Move comes after last known image of missing reporter surfaces in media reports
Turkey said Tuesday it will search the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as part of an investigation into the disappearance a week ago of a Saudi contributor to the Washington Post.
The announcement came as a surveillance image surfaced of Jamal Khashoggi walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul just before he disappeared.
Khashoggi, 59, went missing while on a visit to the consulate for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée. He had been living since last year in the United States, in a self-imposed exile, in part due to the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman.
Turkish officials have said they fear the columnist was killed on the premises of the consulate.
Saudi Arabia has called the allegations it killed Khashoggi "baseless," but has offered no evidence over the past seven days to show he ever left the building.
U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed concern about the writer's disappearance, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said American officials have raised the matter with their Saudi counterparts.
"We call on 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," Pompeo said in a statement.
The European Union's policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Tuesday she supported Pompeo's call for an investigation, and Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt weighed in on the case via Twitter.
Just met the Saudi ambassador to seek urgent answers over Jamal Khashoggi. Violence against journalists worldwide is going up & is a grave threat to freedom of expression. If media reports prove correct, we will treat the incident seriously - friendships depend on shared values.—@Jeremy_Hunt
Tuesday's statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, Hami Aksoy, said Saudi authorities have notified Ankara that they were "open to co-operation" and would allow the consulate building to be searched. The ministry did not say when the premises would be searched.
Officials in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil and must be protected by host nations.
Protesters call for action
However, activists protesting outside the consulate said more needed to be done.
"The Saudi Consulate cannot absolve itself of responsibility for this incident by allowing its premises to be searched," said Gulseren Yoleri of the Human Rights Association. "It has to prove that Jamal wasn't oppressed at the consulate and that he left safely."
The surveillance image bore a date and time stamp, as well as a Turkish caption saying that Khashoggi was arriving at the consulate. The Post, which first published the photo, said "a person close to the investigation" shared the image with them, without elaborating. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet also published the image.
The door Khashoggi walked in through appeared to be the main entrance of the consulate in Istanbul's 4th Levent neighbourhood, a leafy, upscale district near the city's financial hub that's home to several other consulates. However, the consulate has other entrances and exits, through which Saudi officials insist he left.
It's unclear which camera the footage came from and who operated it. However, a number of closed-circuit surveillance cameras surround the area. Friends of Khashoggi say Turkish police have taken possession of footage from the neighbourhood as part of their investigation.
The Saudis have offered no surveillance footage or evidence to corroborate their claims, nor have Turkish authorities offered proof to show why they believe the columnist was killed there.
"If the story that was told about the murder is true, the Turks must have information, and videotape and other documents to back it up," Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, told The Associated Press. "If the story the Saudis are telling, that he just walked out ... after half an hour, if that's true, they ought to have facts, and documents, and evidence and tapes to back that up."
Hiatt said the "idea of a government luring one of its own citizens onto its own diplomatic property in a foreign country to murder him for the peaceful expression of his views would be unimaginable."
New Saudi crown prince
As a contributor to the Post, Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticizing 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 bin Salman, who similarly has led roundups of activists, businessmen and others in the kingdom.
Watch Khashoggi speak to CBC's The National earlier this year about the issue of free speech and criticism of the Saudi regime:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday urged the Saudis to back up their claim that Khashoggi left the consulate.
"Now when this person enters, whose duty is it to prove that he left or not? It is [the duty] of the consulate officials," Erdogan said during a visit to Hungary. "Don't you have cameras and other things? Why don't you prove it. You have to prove it."
Turkey summoned the Saudi ambassador on Sunday to request the kingdom's "full co-operation" in the investigation, a Foreign Ministry official said. The Turkish private NTV television said Ankara asked for permission for its investigators to search the consulate building, but a Foreign Ministry official would not confirm the report. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about the subject.
Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey's support for Qatar in its year-long dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Turkey sent food to Qatar and deployed troops at its military base there.
A Sunni power, Saudi Arabia is also annoyed by Ankara's rapprochement with the kingdom's Shia archrival, Iran.