Jamal Khashoggi has been missing since 2 October, when he went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (AFP)
Saudi Arabia and Turkey have agreed to form a joint working team to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The move follows a conversation between White House aide Jared Kushner, who is also Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, earlier this week.
Khashoggi, a prominent journalist who had been living in self-imposed exile in Washington, has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. The Saudi authorities, meanwhile, have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving.
The Saudis have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claims and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.
A senior source with knowledge of the Turkish investigation told Middle East Eye the Saudis are on the verge of accepting Turkey’s evidence that a major crime took place at the consulate.
The Saudis intend to blame elements within their country’s deep state, security establishment for the journalist’s kidnapping, the source said.
The source said the Saudis are hoping to build a firewall around bin Salman, who has insisted he knows nothing about any alleged kidnapping operation.
The Saudis’ acceptance of Turkey’s version of events – that a crime took place at the consulate – would represent a major U-turn from what Saudi officials have said publicly since Khashoggi was first reported missing.
So far, Saudi officials have staunchly denied that anything took place at the consulate, saying Khashoggi left the building shortly after he arrived. Turkish officials have only spoken anonymously to the media about the details of the investigation.
“We know when Jamal was killed, in which room he was killed and where the body was taken to be dismembered. If the forensic team are allowed in, they know exactly where to go,” a Turkish source with direct knowledge of the investigation told MEE.
The source said police investigators were confident they already had enough forensic evidence from searches of the sewage network connected to the building.
‘Deep state’ elements
Earlier this week, Turkish media outlets named 15 Saudis thought to be involved in the suspected murder, who flew flew into Istanbul and left on the same day he disappeared, including a forensics experts and members of bin Salman’s personal guard.
A source told MEE the Saudis took all the hard drives from the security camera room at the consulate with them when they left the building.
Another Turkish source with knowledge of the investigation told MEE that the Turks had video and audio evidence of the killing. However, they have not revealed how they obtained this evidence.
Particular attention is being paid to an Apple watch that Khashoggi was wearing when he entered the building. It was synced to the iPhone that he gave his fiancee before going inside the consulate.
Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also suggested the possibility of “deep state” elements being involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“Turkey has experience with this kind of a ‘deep state’ structure,” he told Arab media, in comments he repeated in his column for Turkish pro-government newspaper, Yeni Safak, on Wednesday.
A team of investigators is preparing to go into the consulate, a Turkish security official told Reuters. It remains unclear when that search might take place. “Now, they are waiting [for] the final permission to enter the consulate,” the official said.
Trump says US ‘getting closer’ to finding out what happened
On Thursday, the US president told Fox News channel’s morning show, Fox & Friends, that the US is working with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to investigate what happened.
“He went in, and it doesn’t look like he came out. It certainly doesn’t look like he’s around,” Trump said.
“I have to find out what happened…and we’re probably getting closer than you might think,” the president also said.
The US has been under increased pressure to demand answers from Saudi Arabia, a longtime US ally in the Middle East, as to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Bob Corker, a Republican Senator who chairs the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Thursday that “significant sanctions” would have to be imposed at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government if Khashoggi was the victim of a state-sponsored killing, AP reported.
“If it turns out to be what we all think it is today but don’t know, there will have to be significant sanctions placed at the highest levels,” Corker said.
A day earlier, more than two dozen US Democratic and Republican senators, including Corker, invoked a human rights law to demand that Trump formally investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance.