A team of investigators entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Monday for what Turkish officials called a joint inspection of the building where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared nearly two weeks ago.
The team arrived by unmarked police cars at the consulate and said nothing to journalists waiting outside as they entered the building. Police then pushed back journalists from the front of the consulate, where they’ve been stationed for days, setting up a new cordon to keep them away.
The makeup of the investigative team that entered the diplomatic compound was not immediately clear. International concern continues to grow over the writer’s Oct. 2 disappearance.
American lawmakers have threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain have jointly called for a “credible investigation” into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
A Foreign Ministry official had earlier said the team would visit the diplomatic post Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team that flew into and out of Turkey on Oct 2 killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who had written Washington Post columns critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom has called such allegations “baseless” but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.
Such a search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the international community.
However, it remained unclear what evidence, if any, would remain nearly two weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance. As if to drive the point home, a cleaning crew with mops and trash bags walked in past journalists waiting outside the consulate on Monday.
President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could face “severe punishment” if it was proven it was involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Trump tweeted Monday that he had spoken with Saudi King Salman, “who denies any knowledge” of what happened to Khashoggi.
“He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer,” Trump wrote.
“I am immediately sending our Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) to meet with King!” On Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned that if it “receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”
“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations,” said the statement, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published in English a short time later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon.