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Turkish president says he is personally following investigation into disappearance of prominent Saudi critic

Turkish president says he is personally following investigation into disappearance of prominent Saudi critic
Members of the press report from the entrance of the Saudi Arabia Consulate Sunday in Istanbul. (Chris McGrath / Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan said Sunday he was personally following the investigation into the disappearance and reported slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi Arabian journalist who had turned critical of his nation’s monarchy.

“For this to happen in our country is very sad,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.

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“Mr. Jamal was a journalist I had known for a long time, a friend,” he said. “My hopes are still good. God willing, we do not face a situation we do not want to face.”

Jamal Khashoggi, 59, went to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday to obtain a document so he could get married to his Turkish fiancee. His friends, and Turkish officials, say he never emerged from the building. People close to Khashoggi and in touch with investigators have said police have evidence he was killed inside the consulate.

He had resided in the U.S. for more than a year in self-imposed exile after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman moved to consolidate power. The prince has been hailed by Western leaders and commentators as a bold reformist who is modernizing the deeply conservative kingdom.

But Khashoggi turned critical of the Saudi state for its continuing campaign to silence political dissenters.

Erdogan said Turkish police as well as intelligence were investigating movements in and out of the consulate building and looking at exits and entrances at airports.

“I am following this issue, as president of Turkey, I am following it,” he said. “I am chasing it down. We will let the world know what the result is.”

Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Erdogan, took a harder line, saying in an interview on Sunday with Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk that Khashoggi had not left the consulate in “normal ways” and that Saudi officials should offer “a clear explanation” of his disappearance.

In another interview, he told the HaberTurk channel that two aircraft carrying 15 Saudi nationals had arrived in Istanbul Tuesday and were present at the consulate at the same time as Khashoggi.

Consulate officials had instructed Khashoggi to specifically return that day after he first visited on Friday, according to friends.

He entered the consulate for a 1 p.m. appointment, leaving his phone. More than three hours later, Khashoggi still had not emerged. His fiancee became worried and contacted his friend Turan Kislakci, the head of the Turk-Arab Media Assn.

Kislakci said Turkish officials with whom he was in contact told him the journalist had been killed in the consulate.

“Beyond that we don’t have concrete information, but I hope police will say something soon,” he said.

A former Turkish lawmaker who was also a friend of Khashoggi said, “It's been clear… he was killed.”

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“Turkish authorities just needed to confirm, just wanted to make sure, and tomorrow they will probably release all the evidence,” he said, speaking on the condition that he remain anonymous because of the sensitive diplomatic situation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia dismissed reports of Khashoggi’s killing and issued a statement quoting a consulate official who “strongly denounced these baseless allegations, and expressed doubt that they came from Turkish officials that are informed of the investigation or are authorized to comment on the issue.”

The statement added that a security team of Saudi investigators had arrived in Istanbul on Saturday to assist in the investigations.

The Saudi crown prince also denied knowing Khashoggi’s whereabouts, and authorized a group of journalists to enter the consulate on Saturday.

“We are very keen to know what happened to him,” he told Bloomberg News. “We have nothing to hide.”

Motassem Khashoggi, a representative of the journalist’s family in Saudi Arabia, told the Saudi state-run news broadcaster Al Arabiya English on Sunday that he trusted the “government and the actions taken by it and all the efforts being made in the case.”

He said the family did not know of the fiancee and that “she was not connected to the family.”

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with department protocols, said Washington was not in a position to confirm the report, “but we are closely following the situation.”

Farooq is a special correspondent. Staff Writer Nabih Bulos contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.

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