- Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished after visiting the Saudi embassy in Istanbul last week.
- Surveillance camera footage of movements in the Saudi consulate has reportedly vanished. It’s not clear what was in it.
- Local employees were also asked to take a vacation the day Khashoggi visited the consulate, Arab media reported.
- Turkish media also identified 15 suspects in the case, who it says arrived in Istanbul the day Khashoggi disappeared and returned to Riyadh shortly after.
- Turkish officials said they will search the Saudi consulate, but have appeared to soften their tone and refused to attribute blame to Saudi Arabia.
Surveillance camera footage of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has mysteriously disappeared, Turkish authorities said, as investigators continue to look for Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and critic who vanished after entering the building.
Officials are also looking for a black van with diplomatic number plates that was seen leaving the Saudi consulate about two hours after Khashoggi entered, The Guardian reported, citing Turkish authorities.
It left alongside five other cars, but authorities are focusing on one particular vehicle with blacked out windows and believe that it was carrying Khashoggi’s body, The Guardian said.
Turkish TV on Wednesday morning aired footage of the van in question leaving the consulate for the consul’s house, according to the Associated Press.
It’s not entirely clear what the surveillance footage contained. When asked for video footage on Khashoggi, Saudi officials reportedly told Sen. Bob Corker that they “only livestream their tapes.”
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi critic who wrote columns for The Washington Post, disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The 59-year-old, who had been living in self-imposed exile in the US for the past year and said he feared for his life, entered the consulate to obtain documents to finalize his divorce.
His fiancée said she waited outside the embassy for at least 11 hours and never saw him come out.
Local employees abruptly asked to take the day off
News of the missing surveillance footage comes as Arab media reported that the Saudi consulate asked its 28 locally-hired employees to take the day off on October 2, the day Khashoggi disappeared.
An unnamed Turkish security source told the Middle East Eye: “The reason given to the Turkish employees to take the day off was there was an important diplomatic meeting.”
Consulate employees were ordered to wear voice recorders and cameras in the days following Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the locks and keys to a few doors in the compound were changed, the Middle East Eye reported, citing Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper.
Riyadh has vehemently denied allegations that Khashoggi was murdered, and insisted that he left the consulate shortly after he entered. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg last week that Turkey was welcome to search the consulate, adding: “We have nothing to hide.”
The Turkish foreign ministry said on Tuesday that it would search the premises, and that Saudi officials have agreed to cooperate, the Daily Sabah reported. It’s not clear when the search will take place.
Turkish media identifies 15 suspects
On Tuesday, Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper also published the photos and identities of what it said was a 15-member intelligence team from Saudi Arabia involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
All of them arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on October 2 — the day Khashoggi entered the consulate an disappeared — and left the country at different times, Sabah reported, showing photos taken at passport control. It did not say how it got hold of the identities and footage.
Two corporate jets rented from a company often used by the Saudi government arrived in Istanbul that day and left separately that evening, The Guardian reported. One left for Cairo and the other flew to Dubai, but flight tracking records showed that they ultimately landed in Riyadh.
Turkish investigators believe the surveillance footage from inside the consulate was on one of those jets, The Guardian said.
Sabah’s report corresponded to Reuters’ report earlier this week, citing a Turkish security official, that said that a group of 15 Saudi nationals arrived in Istanbul, entered the Saudi consulate, and left the country later.
Here’s the @Sabah article that publicizes the faces and names and travel movements of the alleged 15 Saudi regime operatives who entered Turkey to carry out the abduction and possible murder of Jamal Khashoggi https://t.co/6m9pA3xkAv
— Borzou Daragahi 🖊🗒 (@borzou)
October 10, 2018
Turkey softens its tone
Earlier this week Turkish authorities told the Associated Press that Khashoggi’s disappearance was “a preplanned murder.”
But the country, which has deep trade ties with Saudi Arabia, has appeared to climb down from the statement. Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and friend of Khashoggi, said according to The Guardian: “The Saudi state is not blamed here.”
Earlier this week Aktay said, according to Reuters: “My sense is that he has been killed… in the consulate.”
Erdogan on Monday asked Saudi Arabia to prove its claims that Khashoggi left the consulate, Reuters reported.
Countries including the UK, US, and Canada have expressed concerns and called on Saudi for more information
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his department called on Saudi Arabia to “support a thorough investigation … and to be transparent about the results.”
But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert added, according to Reuters: “We don’t know what has happened to him. We don’t have any information on that. We don’t want to make any judgments about what happened.”
Jeremy Hunt, the UK Foreign Secretary, tweeted on Tuesday that he had asked the Saudi ambassador to Britain “to seek urgent answers” over Khashoggi. He added: “If media reports prove correct, we will treat the incident seriously — friendships depend on shared values.”
The UN also said Khashoggi’s disappearance was “of serious concern,” called on Saudi and Turkish authorities to conduct a “prompt and impartial investigation” into the “apparent enforced disappearance.”
UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters: “If reports of his death and the extraordinary circumstances leading up to it are true, this is truly shocking.”