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Saudis instructed Turkish consulate staff to take day off on date Khashoggi disappeared

Turkish staff at Saudi consulate were told that the reason was an important diplomatic meeting in the building, security sources told MEE
Human rights activists hold pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (Reuters)

The Saudi consulate in Istanbul asked its locally hired Turkish staff members not to come into work on the day Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, Turkish security sources have confirmed to Middle East Eye.

The consulate instructed its 28 Turkish employees to take the day off on 2 October, Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet first reported on Monday night.

Turkish security sources confirmed the newspaper's report to MEE, and added that "there were intensive moves in and out of the consulate" last Tuesday.

"The reason given to the Turkish employees to take the day off was there was an important diplomatic meeting," a Turkish source told MEE.

According to Hurriyet, "voice recorders and cameras were put on all the consulate employees" on 4 October.

"And last week, locks and of course keys to a couple of doors were changed in the consulate," the newspaper reported.

Turkish newspaper releases names of Saudis 

A source close the the investigation said 15 Saudis that visited the consulate that day and left the country are all under suspicion. Turks and civilians that visited the building too are all being treated as suspects, the source said.

Late on Tuesday, Turkish newspaper Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, published the alleged names and photos of 15 Saudi nationals it said travelled to Istanbul the day Khashoggi disappeared.

A government source told Middle East Eye that three of them were members of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's elite close protection unit.

One of the passengers was a top Saudi forensic expert, the source said.

He added that the police report states that the bags of the Saudi individuals were inspected upon their departure and did not contain anything suspicious.

An unidentified official told the New York Times that the Saudi operation was complex and took place two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate. All 15 stayed in Turkey for only a few hours, according to the New York Times.

Sabah said the Saudi nationals arrived from Riyadh to Istanbul on two private jets with the tail numbers HZ SK1 and HZ SK2. According to the report, most of them stayed at the Wyndham Grand Hotel and Movenpick Hotel, which is close to the consulate.

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Turkey said on Tuesday it planned to search Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, where Khashoggi vanished last week after entering the building to request paperwork.

Turkish authorities have told MEE they believe Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and critic of the Saudi govenrment, was killed soon after entering the building.

Turkey's foreign ministry said Saudi Arabia will allow Turkish investigators into its Istanbul consulate to probe the disappearance and alleged murder of Khashoggi.

"[The] Saudi authorities said they were open to cooperation and that a search can be conducted at the consulate building," the ministry's spokesperson, Hami Aksoy, said in a statement, adding that the search will be conducted in "an intensive manner".

No exact timeframe was given for when the search would take place.

The Washington Post released on Tuesday what appears to be the last-known photograph of Khashoggi, walking into the Saudi consulate from which he apparently never left.

The image bears a date and time stamp saying it was taken on 2 October, when the Post’s columnist entered the consulate to obtain divorce papers.

The photo was given to the Post by someone close to the Turkish investigation and released by the US daily soon after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the Saudis to prove he left the consulate unharmed.

Later on Tuesday, the newspaper's publisher Fred Ryan released a statement calling for more information on Khashoggi's whereabouts. He said: "Silence, delays and denials are not acceptable."

Riyadh has denied Khashoggi was killed or detained on its Istanbul premises, and claims that the veteran journalist left the consulate shortly after entering.

The Saudis have offered no evidence that he did leave.

"Mere words are not enough evidence" to dispute the allegations that Khashoggi had been killed, Erdogan said on Monday.

“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,'" the Turkish president added.

"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."

Meanwhile, Britain urged the Saudi government to explain what happened. "Just met the Saudi ambassador to seek urgent answers over Jamal Khashoggi," foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter.

"Violence against journalists worldwide is going up and is a grave threat to freedom of expression. If media reports prove correct, we will treat the incident seriously - friendships depend on shared values," he wrote.

Suspicious vehicles

The bulk of Turkey's investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance so far has centred around examining CCTV footage.

Turkish sources told MEE that police have been looking at footage from around 150 cameras to pin down the movements of three vehicles that authorities deem particularly suspicious.

Local and international media have reported that two private jets, which arrived and left on the day of Khashoggi's disappearence, and their passengers are being investigated.

According to Turkish media, seven Saudis arrived at the consulate on 2 October at 03.13am. Khashoggi then entered at 1.14pm. Forty-five minutes later, the seven suspects left the consulate in the same three cars. The vehicles then split up, with one car going one way and two going another.

A Turkish source told MEE that the two that stayed together are under particular suspicion.

Doors of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (AP)
"Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country," the police source told MEE.

Turkish sources following the investigation are unsure, however, about what happened to Khashoggi's body. One line of investigation is looking into the possibility his dismembered body may have been transported away from the consulate in the three vehicles now being looked into.

According to the sources, the Turkish police have followed the cars' movements using CCTV footage - starting from the camera outside the consulate.

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At the areas in which the vehicles stopped - which were all CCTV blackspots - the police have recorded the time they paused in the locations, the sources said.

There is another theory being pursued by the police, however: that the 15 Saudis were experts on removing all the traces and “footprints” of murder scenes.

According to MEE's sources, police are looking into the possibility that Khashoggi's body was destroyed on-site, maybe even burnt to ashes that could be easily disposed of.

Sources told MEE that Saudi Arabia's reluctance to let any Turkish officials or media into the consulate for five days has prompted Turkey to place emphasis on this possibility.

Growing pressure

As Khashoggi’s disappearance drags on, more countries have been moved to comment on the case.

The Washington Post said on Sunday that the US should “demand answers” from its close allies the Saudis, and after a long, much-criticised period of silence, the White House responded to the allegations on Monday.

I don’t like hearing about it. Hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now nobody knows anything about it

- Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump said he was “concerned” about the reports of Khashoggi’s murder.

“I don’t like hearing about it,” Trump said. “Hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now nobody knows anything about it.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded on Monday too, issuing a statement urging "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".

On Tuesday, Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said Trump plans to speak to the Saudis about what happened.

"We don’t know what has happened to him," Nauert said during a press briefing.

“We’re not going to make any judgments about what happened to him. The US is certainly concerned about his whereabouts. We call on the government of Saudi Arabia to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation," she said.

Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz outside the Saudi consulate. (AFP)

Canada, which is embroiled in a diplomatic spat with Riyadh over concern it expressed over Saudi Arabia's crackdown on women's rights activists, expressed concern over Khashoggi's disappearance on Sunday.

"We are aware of and concerned by these reports. Canadian officials are actively seeking more information," a spokesperson for the Canadian foreign minister said.

Left behind

Friends, loved ones and activists have been gathering outside the consulate since Khashoggi's disappearance.

On Monday, Nobel Laureate and Yemeni peace activist Tawakkol Karman told AFP news agency outside the consulate that if reports of the journalist's demise did turn out to be correct, it would be an "awful crime".

"Killing him is like killing us. This policy is just a terror policy. There's no difference between the state terror and other terror actions," she said.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancee, described her anguish and the moments she realised the journalist was missing.

“I no longer feel like I am really alive,” she told the Post. “I can’t sleep. I don’t eat.”

Cengiz said she was presented with the image now released by the US daily by Turkish police soon after Khashoggi's disappearance to confirm it was him in the photo. She said it was - the figure was wearing the same blue jacket that she had last seen him in, shortly before he entered the consulate.

Khashoggi - who had been living in a self-imposed exile after angering the Saudi authorities - was visiting the consulate to obtain proof of his divorce so he could marry Cengiz according to Turkish law.

The journalist reportedly told his fiancee to call a top aide of Erdogan's and close friend if he didn't return.

“He said at some point, ‘Maybe it’s better if I don’t go,’” Cengiz told the Post. “He was worried that something might happen.”

According to the newspaper, Cengiz approached a guard at the consulate's door when she became concerned he had not left, and called to ask about his whereabouts. Then a man came to the entrance.

“There’s no one inside,” he reportedly told her.

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