International desk: Turkish authorities believe that prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared four days ago after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, has been killed.
“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,” a Turkish official told Reuters news agency on Saturday.
A Saudi source at the consulate denied that Khashoggi had been killed at the mission and said in a statement that the accusations were baseless, Reuters reported.
The suspected assassination of the leading critic of the Saudi regime came four days after he entered the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Earlier on Saturday, sources told Al Jazeera that a delegation of 15 Saudi officials arrived in Turkey the day Khashoggi, 59, disappeared.
“The Saudi officials flew into Istanbul on two different flights on Tuesday,” Al Jazeera’s Istanbul correspondent Jamal Elshayyal quoted his sources as saying, adding that it was not clear if the Saudi delegation consisted of security or diplomatic officials.
The revelations came as Turkey widened its investigation into the disappearance of the dissident Saudi journalist after Saudi Arabia failed to back its claim that he left the consulate on Tuesday.
Turkey’s ruling party also said it will “uncover” the details surrounding Khashoggi’s vanishing, adding that the country’s sensitivity on the issue was at the “highest level”.
“The condition of the lost journalist, details on him and who is responsible for this will be uncovered,” AK Party spokesman Omer Celik told reporters at a party summit chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On Friday, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Ankara over the issue.
Later that day, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said Saudi authorities would allow Turkey to search its consulate.
“We will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do … We have nothing to hide,” MBS told Bloomberg on Friday.
Saudi Arabia invited a group of journalists into the Istanbul mission on Saturday, in an effort to show that Khashoggi was not on the premises.
“I would like to confirm that…Jamal is not at the consulate nor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the consulate and the embassy are working to search for him,” consul-general Mohammad al-Otaiba told Reuters.
Khashoggi had entered the consulate’s premises at around 1pm (10:00 GMT) on Tuesday to secure paperwork in order to marry his Turkish fiancee, identified only as Hatice A.
Hatice said she waited outside after Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate on Tuesday and never re-emerged. Following the initial announcement by Turkish sources of Khashoggi’s killing, she tweeted in Arabic her refusal to believe that is the case.
Rights groups had called on Saudi Arabia to verify Khashoggi’s whereabouts, with Human Rights Watch calling on Turkey to deepen its investigation into the case, saying if Saudi Arabia had detained Khashoggi without acknowledging it, his detention would constitute an enforced disappearance.
Khashoggi’s suspected killing may further strain relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who are on opposite sides of the multination blockade of Qatar and other regional crises.
Khashoggi, who had been living in self-imposed exile in the US for over a year, was one of the best-known critics of the Saudi government’s reform programme under the stewardship of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In his writings for the Washington Post, the Saudi commentator had slammed Saudi policies towards Qatar and Canada, the war in Yemen, and a crackdown on dissent and the media in the kingdom.