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Khashoggi probe: Suspicious Saudi van leads Turkish police to woodland

Investigators and sniffer dogs are combing new areas after tracking movements of diplomatic vehicle, source tells MEE
A Turkish policeman with a sniffer dog examines the backyard of Saudi Arabia's consul general's residence in Istanbul. (Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey - The Turkish police’s investigation into the presumed murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has led to two large, wooded areas on Istanbul’s outskirts.

According to a source inside the investigation, the police have been led to the Belgrad forest and woodland in the Gazi neighbourhood by following the movements of a suspicious black van belonging to the Saudi diplomatic mission.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of his government, disappeared after walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Sources have told Middle East Eye that he was tortured, murdered and dismembered by a hit squad of 15 Saudi agents sent to Istanbul to kill him.

Jamal Khashoggi's killing took seven minutes, Turkish source tells MEE
Read More »

Early in the Turkish investigation focus was given to the movements of 14 vehicles that came and left the consulate the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Through watching footage of more than 150 CCTV cameras across the city, investigators have managed to pin down the whereabouts of the vehicles in the hours following Khashoggi’s apparent assassination.

At one point a convoy of cars enters a parking lot and CCTV blackspot. Soon after, a black van with green diplomatic plates emerged, a source told MEE.

The source said that a few minutes after leaving the parking lot the van’s GPRS system was torn out and discarded on the road.

However, using CCTV footage, investigators have tracked the van’s journey north, past the Gazi woodland and Belgrad forest, and back into town.

The source said police are now combing the areas, using crime scene investigation teams and sniffer dogs.

Buildings searched

Last night Turkish police combed the residence of Saudi Consul-General Mohammed al-Otaibi, 500 meters from the consulate.

Otaibi himself was not present, as he flew back to Riyadh on a commercial flight on Wednesday afternoon.

While searching the consul-general’s house, which the Saudis allowed two days after the consulate itself was searched, investigators combed a small grove nearby, without success, the source said.

However, a high-level Turkish official told the Associated Press on Tuesday that “certain evidence” of Khashoggi’s murder was found in the consulate.

Turkey says that areas of the Saudi consulate’s interior were repainted in between Khashoggi’s disappearance and forensics specialists being allowed into the building 13 days later.

Hours before investigators were allowed into the consulate, cleaners were witnessed entering the building.

After searching the consul-general’s residence overnight, investigators returned to the consulate early on Thursday for three hours.

To date, Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving.

However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.

Reputational damage

Saudi Arabia's reputation is suffering as the Turkish authorities drip feed the media more and more gruesome details of the apparent murder.

Several world and business leaders have pulled out of an investors’ conference in Riyadh slated for next week.

Britain’s trade secretary, Liam Fox, France’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, and Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra are the latest figures to announce they will not be attending the Future Investment Initiative.

"The Secretary of State for International Trade [Liam Fox] has decided the time is not right for him to attend the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on 23 October," a UK government spokesperson said on Thursday.

The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance ... Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account

- UK government spokesperson

"The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance ... Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account."

Khashoggi, who had fallen out of favour with the Saudi royal family and was living in self-imposed exile, visited the consulate two weeks ago hoping to obtain papers proving he was divorced.

However, according to high-level Turkish sources, who say they have been privy to audio and video recordings of the murder, a number of Saudi special forces officers lay in wait for him.

Amongst the party sent by Riyadh to dispatch the critic of the Saudi government was Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, one of the kingdom’s leading forensic pathologists, according to a source.

The source told MEE that Tubaigy began to dismember Khashoggi while the journalist was still alive. Khashoggi took seven minutes to die, the source said.

The heir to the Saudi throne, Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to insulate himself from the growing fallout of the Khashoggi case.

US President Donald Trump on Monday said he had spoken to his close ally the crown prince, and been told the 33-year-old had no knowledge of what took place in the Saudi consulate.

However on Wednesday, MEE revealed that seven of the 15-strong hit squad involved in the apparent murder were the crown prince's bodyguards.

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