Turkey widens Khashoggi search, denies giving US tapes

Published October 19, 2018
Protesters holding portraits of missing journalist and Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi with the caption: "Jamal Khashoggi is missing since October 2". —AFP
Protesters holding portraits of missing journalist and Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi with the caption: "Jamal Khashoggi is missing since October 2". —AFP
An aerial view of the Belgrade Forest in Istanbul, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 where the focus of investigation has now been shifted by  Turkish investigators. —AP
An aerial view of the Belgrade Forest in Istanbul, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 where the focus of investigation has now been shifted by Turkish investigators. —AP

Turkey on Friday widened the investigation into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after his visit to the Saudi consulate, searching a forest in the city.

Ankara also denied giving any audio recording to US officials from the investigation about Khashoggi, a former royal insider who moved to the United States after becoming a critic of the current House of Saud leadership.

US President Donald Trump acknowledged that Khashoggi was likely dead even as his fate remained unclear 17 days after he vanished.

Pro-government Turkish media have provided a steady stream of claims that Khashoggi was tortured and decapitated by a Saudi hit squad inside the consulate, although Turkey has yet to divulge details about the investigation.

But the controversy has already put the kingdom — for decades a key Western ally and bulwark against Iran in the Middle East — under unprecedented pressure amid reports it is scrambling to provide an explanation to take the heat off its rulers.

It is also a major crisis for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a favourite of the Trump administration who has portrayed himself as a modernising Arab reformer, but whose image and even position at home could now be gravely undermined.

Forest search

Istanbul's Belgrade forest became a target of the investigation after police focused on the vehicles which had left the consulate on the day Khashoggi disappeared, NTV channel reported. At least one vehicle is suspected to have gone to the forest.

The forest, a vast area and sufficiently remote for even locals to regularly get lost there, is nearly 15 kilometres (over nine miles) away from the Saudi consulate.

Investigators already conducted two searches of the consulate and a nine-hour search of the consul's residence this week. The Saudi consul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, abruptly left Istanbul for Riyadh on Tuesday.

Pro-government daily Sabah on Friday published new CCTV images of some of the Saudi team arriving in Istanbul and reported that two of the men landed in the city on October 1.

Previously, local media said the 15 men arrived in Turkey on the day that Khashoggi went missing via two private planes, which then returned to Riyadh via Egypt and Dubai.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu did not reveal probe details but promised to share information in due course “in a transparent manner”.

“It is out of the question for us to share this or that information with any country,” he said during a visit to Albania's capital, Tirana.

'No tape given'

The key potential piece of evidence in the investigation is an alleged audio tape whose existence has been reported by pro-government media. They say it proves Khashoggi was tortured and then killed.

ABC News on Thursday quoted an unnamed Turkish official saying US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heard the audio tape and was shown a transcript of the recording during his visit to Ankara.

But Pompeo said he had neither “seen” nor “heard” a tape and had not read a transcript during the visit to Ankara where he held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Cavusoglu.

Read: ‘This has not been business as usual in my country’: excerpts from Saudi journalist Khashoggi’s writings

Cavusoglu on Friday also denied the claims and said it was “out of the question for Turkey to give any kind of audio tape to Pompeo or any other US official”.

Earlier Trump said he now believed Khashoggi was dead and warned of “very severe” consequences should Saudi Arabia be proven responsible.

“It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad,” Trump said when asked if he believed that Khashoggi is no longer alive.

'Prevent whitewash'

The New York Times reported that Saudi leaders could blame General Ahmed al-Assiri, a top intelligence official close to the crown prince.

Previously US media said Saudis were preparing a report that Khashoggi's death resulted from a botched interrogation, in a bid to limit the global backlash against Riyadh and damage to the crown prince.

As Washington seeks to avoid a long-term rupture with its ally Riyadh, Pompeo told Trump the Saudis should be given “a few more days to complete” an official probe.

But four prominent human rights and press freedom groups urged Turkey to demand a United Nations investigation to prevent a “whitewash” of the alleged crime.

The furore has also blown a huge hole in next week's Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. It was meant to showcase Prince Mohammed's plans for reform but has now been hit by a stream of big name cancellations including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Opinion

Police & prosecution
16 Jan 2021

Police & prosecution

Yasin Malik’s case is a revealing example of Modi’s political vendetta.
Changes in privacy policy
16 Jan 2021

Changes in privacy policy

It is indeed a blunder by WhatsApp to move towards a model that is less private than before.
A national dialogue?
15 Jan 2021

A national dialogue?

Fundamental reforms are needed to change the ‘system of spoils’, not save it.

Editorial

16 Jan 2021

Gas liberalisation

AFTER drawing much criticism from both consumers and the opposition over its mismanagement of the energy sector that...
16 Jan 2021

Osama Satti inquiry

THE findings of the judicial inquiry into the Jan 2 killing of 21-year-old Osama Satti in Islamabad merely confirms...
Updated 16 Jan 2021

British MP on IHK

DESPITE sustained efforts by New Delhi’s rulers to remove India-held Kashmir from the global discourse, people of...
Updated 15 Jan 2021

Trump’s impeachment

The impeachment move may well remain symbolic in nature; even then, the symbolism itself is a potent one.
15 Jan 2021

Economic growth

MOODY’S Investors Service expects Pakistan’s economy to grow by a modest 1.5pc in FY2021, much higher than the...
15 Jan 2021

Madressah students

GETTING students of madressahs involved in politics is a bad idea, primarily because seminarians should be...