The mystery of what happened to dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi deepens by the day. The 59-year-old has been missing for over a week after he walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, with an appointment to line up the paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
Cengiz waited for him outside the building for hours, but he never emerged. Saudi officials claim they have no idea where he is and vehemently deny harming Khashoggi, who had been writing pieces critical of the repressive state for The Washington Post.
But Turkish authorities have gathering and releasing information that paints a harrowing picture of what might have happened to the journalist: Over the past 24 hours, Turkish officials have released images of a 15-member Saudi “assassination squad” they say flew to Turkey to deal with Khashoggi. Among them was a man Turkish media say is a forensic or autopsy expert.
One unnamed Turkish official told The New York Times on Wednesday that a “bone saw” was among the items the team brought with them, adding that the order to kill Khashoggi, who had written critically about Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, came from the country’s royal court.
Turkish newspapers report that the Saudi consulate staff were given October 2 — the day of Khashoggi’s appointment — off. They were told there was a “diplomats’ meeting.”
According to Turkish news channel TRT, the team arrived via private chartered flights into Istanbul, and the men on those flights stayed at a hotel near the Saudi consulate. As Khashoggi arrived at the consulate last week, a black van is seen in the background. Nearly two hours later, the black van leaves the consulate, goes to the Consul General’s home, pulls into a garage, and a few hours later heads to the airport.
Turkish authorities want to know who or what was in that van.
The 15-member Saudi team flew out of Istanbul that same day.
Saudi officials have yet to share any evidence that Khashoggi walked out of the consulate — as they claim he did. There is no surveillance from cameras in the area showing him walking out, nor did Cengiz see him leave.
She issued a plea to President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on Tuesday to look into her fiancé’s fate:
“At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance. I also urge Saudi Arabia, especially King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to show the same level of sensitivity and release CCTV footage from the consulate,” Cengiz wrote in a Washington Post editorial on Tuesday.
The U.S. response to the accusations against its close ally has been so far soft. President Trump earlier said that he’s concerned to hear of Khashoggi’s disappearance. The State Department called on Saudi Arabia to investigate itself, and Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday said that the United States was ready to help investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance if Saudi Arabia requested such help.