Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is hopeful about the fate of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi amid reports that the critic may have been killed shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Erdogan told reporters on Sunday that authorities were looking into all video surveillance footage of the mission’s entrances and monitoring all inbound and outbound flights since the writer disappeared on Tuesday.
“I am following the [issue] and we will inform the world whatever the outcome [of the official probe]”, Erdogan said.
“God willing, we will not be faced with a situation we do not want. I still am hopeful,” adding that “it is very, very upsetting for us that it happened in our country”.
Turkish sources told the Reuters news agency on Saturday they believed Khashoggi was killed at the consulate in what they described as a “premeditated murder”.
An unnamed source inside the consulate, however, was quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency as denying the claims, saying the accusations were “baseless”.
A leading critic of the Saudi government’s reform programme under the stewardship of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Khashoggi had been living in self-imposed exile in the US for over a year.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Istanbul, said Turkish authorities are trying to walk a fine line so as not to damage relations between the two countries.
“There is an attempt by the Turkish government to try to find a way out of this whereby there isn’t a full collapse of diplomatic relations, at least a temporary freeze between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
“Because, if indeed, Turkish authorities can prove unequivocally that Saudi agents essentially murdered a journalist inside the consulate in Istanbul, it would require some sort of strong reaction.”
“One of the political sources that Al Jazeera spoke to on Saturday said it was confident Turkey’s reaction would be ‘very strong’.”
Saudi officials in Istanbul
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,” 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.
“Al Jazeera has also learned in the next day or so video material will be released showing details of the assassination,” Elshayyal said.
‘Breach of sovereignty’
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst
The incident, if proven true, will be interpreted as a major breach of Turkey’s sovereignty.
Turkish-Saudi relations will worsen, even though I must admit, it is very hard to imagine how relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey could get any worse.
For at least the past decade, certainly for the last three years, relations between Riyadh and Ankara have deteriorated in near all relevant issues to both countries within the region and outside it.
There is a huge leverage possible from Washington towards Riyadh if President Donald Trump wants to use it. Unfortunately, he has hesitated since his visit to Saudi Arabia at the outset of his tenure.
In fact, he considers them his best friends and he has been giving them his full support.
Saudi authorities barred Khashoggi from writing as a journalist when he was still in Saudi Arabia because he criticised Trump and his discourse towards the Muslim world.
On Friday, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Ankara over the issue.
Later that day, the crown prince 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, Hatice Cengiz.
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.
— Hatice Cengiz / خديجة (@mercan_resifi) October 6, 2018
Translation: Jamal was not killed and I do not believe that he has been murdered…!
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.
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.