Turkey picked up the pace of an investigation into the disappearance of a missing Saudi dissident writer Tuesday, searching both the Saudi consulate and residence in Istanbul, the same day America’s top diplomat went to Riyadh seeking answers.
Turkish police units entered the consul’s residence in Istanbul as part of the probe into the disappearance of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Saudi Consul Mohammad al-Otaibi left the country on a commercial flight to Saudi Arabia just an hour before the search started, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT.
The search at the residence came hours after Turkish and Saudi teams wrapped up a nine-hour search of the consulate earlier Tuesday, according to state news agency Anadolu.
It was the first time Turkish officials had been allowed into the building for their investigation since earlier this month, when Khashoggi disappeared after entering the consulate building.
Anadolu shared images of what it said were crime scene investigation units searching the garden and the rooftop of the Saudi consulate. The Turkish team, including prosecutors and police officials from anti-terrorism and crime scene units, also took soil samples from the consulate garden, Anadolu added.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday they were looking into possible traces of “toxic materials” that had been painted over, local media reported.
“A consulate is not a place where people are interrogated,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday in Ankara amid US media reports that the kingdom is preparing to admit that Khashoggi was killed in an interrogation that went wrong at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkey wants to carry out a “transparent” investigation, Cavusoglu added.
Also on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
The leaders agreed on the need for prompt answers. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo discussed the need for “a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation.”
Tensions have escalated between Washington and Riyadh regarding the missing Saudi dissident writer, who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on October 2 to sort out marriage paperwork as his Turkish fiancee waited outside.
Following his Riyadh visit, Pompeo is expected to arrive in Turkey on Wednesday to meet Cavusoglu, Anadolu reported. Turkey has said it believes Khashoggi was murdered inside the building.
US President Donald Trump promised “severe punishment” if the kingdom’s leadership was responsible for the death of Khashoggi, a legal US resident and Washington Post columnist who has been a prominent critic of the powerful 33-year-old Saudi crown prince.
Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, which has strenuously denied any involvement, vowed to respond to steps taken against it with “greater action” and warned of consequences for the global economy.
The family of Khashoggi called for the formation of an international fact-finding committee to investigate their father’s case.
“We are demanding, out of moral and legal responsibilities, that an international independent and impartial committee be formed to fact-find the circumstances of [Khashoggi’s] disappearance and the conflicting reports on his slaying,” the family said in a statement late on Monday.
The foreign ministers of Germany and France also jointly called for answers on Tuesday.
The New York Times, citing a source familiar with Saudi Arabia’s plans, said Riyadh is prepared to say Khashoggi was mistakenly killed by an over-eager intelligence official who then sought to cover up the botched job.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the diplomatic immunity of Saudi diplomats in Turkey should be waived immediately to help the investigation.
“Under international law, both a forced disappearance and an extrajudicial killing are very serious crimes, and immunity should not be used to impede investigations into what happened and who is responsible,” the UN high commissioner said in a statement.
Khashoggi, 60, is a sharp critic of the young Saudi crown prince’s policies, condemning Riyadh’s role in the war in Yemen and the “repressive” tactics against the Saudi opposition.
He has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since last year “over concerns that he would be arrested or prevented from travelling” by Saudi Arabia, the Washington Post said.