ISTANBUL: Saudi royal guards, intelligence officers, soldiers and an autopsy expert were part of a 15-member team from the kingdom that targeted missing writer Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish media said Thursday. The Washington Post contributor vanished last week while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The reported details, coupled with more-direct comments from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appear aimed at gradually pressuring Saudi Arabia to reveal what happened to Khashoggi, while also balancing Ankara’s need to maintain the kingdom’s investments in Turkey and relations on other issues.
Information continues to trickle out through Turkish media about the 15-man Saudi team previously described as an “assassination squad.” These leaks, largely matching across Turkey’s state-run media and private Erdogan-linked outlets, likely come from the country’s security services as another means to pressure the kingdom over Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 disappearance.
The first plane of nine Saudis arrived from Riyadh around 3:30 a.m. that day, and included an individual described as a forensics official, according to the Sabah newspaper. One Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press to discuss an ongoing police investigation, previously described that official as an “autopsy expert.”
The other six flew in on commercial flights, according to a list obtained by Sabah, which also published their names and faces. Local media described the Saudis being military and intelligence officers, as well as several “royal guards.”
Around the time Khashoggi entered the consulate, a second private plane from Riyadh took off for Istanbul. About two hours after he entered the consulate, video released by state media in Turkey shows several vehicles with diplomatic license plates, leave the consulate and drive some 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away to the consul’s residence.
The Hurriyet newspaper and other media alleged that the consulate’s 28 local staff were given the day off because a “diplomats’ meeting” would be held there. The reports did not cite a source and there was no official confirmation.
By 7 p.m., six of the Saudis left by the newly arrived private plane, flying on to Cairo and remaining overnight until heading back to Riyadh, according to Sabah and other media reports. By 11 p.m., another seven left by the other private plane, heading to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, similarly remaining there overnight and then flying on to Riyadh the next day, according to reports. Two others flew out commercially, Sabah said.
While the reports provide nothing definitive, they darken the picture surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance.