Turkish president calls on Saudi Arabia to provide proof that journalist Jamal Khashoggi left their embassy in Istanbul
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the burden lies with Saudi Arabia to prove that missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi is still alive and had left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as the kingdom has claimed.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday afternoon, Erdogan said "mere words are not enough evidence" to dispute the allegations that Khashoggi had been killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday.
"We have to get an outcome from this investigation as soon as possible. The consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying 'he has left'," Erdogan told a news conference in Budapest.
"We have been working on it since they came to us, our intelligence and police department have been working on it. Our aim is to reach a conclusion. We look at the media and see various reports that make us think about it. We have to get a conclusion as soon as possible."
Turkish officials told Reuters over the weekend that they believed Khashoggi had been killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, while a senior adviser to Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey had "concrete information" on the abduction of the Washington Post columnist.
A senior Turkish police source told Middle East Eye that police believed that Khashoggi was "brutally tortured, killed and cut into pieces" inside the consulate after visiting the building on 2 October.
However, Erdogan - who said he was personally following the case - said Turkey had no documents or evidence at hand regarding the case.
A source told MEE on Monday that a Turkish forensics team was poised to enter the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Yasin Aktay, a former MP for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the man Khashoggi told his fiancee to call if he did not emerge from the consulate, voiced concerns over the Saudi national's whereabouts.
Speaking to CNN Turk, Aktay said that Khashoggi's friends had told him to not go to the Saudi embassy and that the consulate was "not safe".
I am following the issue, and we will inform the world of the outcome of the official probe, which was launched on Saturday
-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
"His friends had warned him [Khashoggi], 'Do not go there, it is not safe,' but he said they [the Saudis] could not do anything in Turkey," said Aktay.
"Khashoggi discussed whether to go there with his fiancee beforehand. Our security officials are investigating the issue in every detail. We have some concrete information; it won't be an unsolved crime.
"We could determine his entrance but not any exit. That's confirmed. We asked them [the Saudis], they say 'he left,' but there is no such thing on the camera footage.
"That's underestimating Turkey. They are wrong if they think Turkey is as it was in the '90s. The consulate should make a clear statement."
In his initial comments on Sunday, Erdogan struck a cautious tone with regards to the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's disappearence.
Commenting for the first time on the matter, Erdogan told reporters: "I am following the issue, and we will inform the world of the outcome of the official probe, which was launched on Saturday.
"God willing we will not be faced with a situation we do not want."
Erdogan said that he hoped to have the results "very quickly" over the incident involving a "journalist I knew for a long time" and a "friend".
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"It is very, very upsetting for us that it happened in our country," he said.
Erdogan said that CCTV footage of entrances and exits at the consulate and the airport in Istanbul were being studied by the police.
"Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country," the police source told MEE.
An unidentified Turkish official told the Reuters news agency: "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."
Aktay said he believed Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate and that Turkish authorities believed a group of 15 Saudi nationals were "most certainly involved" in the matter.
A Turkish source told MEE that four of the 15 nationals had been identified.
Police said the 15 Saudis, including officials, came to Istanbul on two private flights on Tuesday and were at the consulate at the same time as the journalist. They left again the same day, according to MEE's sources.
Their diplomatic bags could not be opened, a security source told MEE, but Turkish intelligence was sure that Khashoggi's remains were not in them.
An unidentified official from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul dismissed the claim on Sunday, describing the allegations to the Saudi Press Agency as "baseless".
Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, said on Twitter she was "waiting for an official confirmation from the Turkish government to believe" the claims.
In his newspaper columns, Khashoggi has been critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's policies and Riyadh's intervention in the war in Yemen.
A legal representative from Khashoggi's family in Saudi Arabia said they trusted Saudi authorities and were cooperating with them, according to al-Arabiya news.
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In a statement on Sunday, Mutasem Khashoggi, the legal adviser to the Khashoggi family in Saudi Arabia, told al-Arabiya news that he believed external parties were using his brother's disappearance to "push their agenda".
The Washington Post late on Sunday said the United States should "demand answers" from Riyadh on Khashoggi's disappearance - and punish the kingdom if it becomes clear the journalist was indeed murdered.
"The United States must now make a concerted effort to determine all the facts about Mr Khashoggi's disappearance," the Post wrote in an editorial. The US must "demand answers, loud and clear," the paper said.
The editorial noted that the Trump administration has made great efforts to build ties with Mohammed bin Salman, and should now use the relationship as leverage.
"If the crown prince does not respond with full cooperation, Congress must, as a first step, suspend all military cooperation with the kingdom," it said.
Trump raises 'concern' after days of silence
US President Donald Trump broke several days of silence on Monday, saying he was "concerned" about reports on Khashoggi's disappearance.
“I am concerned about it. I don’t like hearing about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now nobody knows anything about it.”
His comments came after several prominent US lawmakers also expressed their own concerns.
US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted on Monday that it was "imperative" to find out what happened to Khashoggi.
"Honest answers must be forthcoming for the sake of the Saudi-US relationship," he wrote.
Graham also said that if allegations of Saudi wrongdoing prove true, "it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid - economically and otherwise".
Bob Corker, another Republican senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he personally raised the issue of Khashoggi's disappearance with the Saudi ambassador.
I have raised Jamal's disappearance personally with the Saudi ambassador, and while we await more information, know we will respond accordingly to any state that targets journalists abroad
- Bob Corker, US Republican Senator
"And while we await more information, know we will respond accordingly to any state that targets journalists abroad," Corker tweeted on Monday afternoon.
Another Republican senator, Marco Rubio, also tweeted on Sunday that he was concerned by the reports of Khashoggi's disappearance and called on the government to respond:
I pray Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is alive. But if this deeply disturbing news report is confirmed, the United States & the civilized world must respond strongly, and I will review all options in Senate. https://t.co/LzrKiRveRp
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) October 7, 2018