“We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate,” one official reportedly told Reuters.
Khashoggi, who was a critic of the Saudi government, went to the consulate Tuesday to get paperwork for his upcoming wedding while his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, waited outside. Saudi officials have said Khashoggi left soon after, but Cengiz has said she never saw him leave.
“My sense is that he has been killed,” Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, also told Reuters.
Khashoggi and Cengiz were set to marry on Wednesday. She reacted with disbelief Saturday to reports that Saudi officials murdered Khashoggi inside the consulate.
But Turan Kislakci, a friend of Khashoggi and the head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association, said Sunday that officials have told him Khashoggi is dead.”We have evidence he was killed in a barbaric way,” Kislakci said he was told. “We will announce it tomorrow or the day after.”
Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations, according to Reuters and The Washington Post. Reporters from Reuters toured the Saudi consulate on Saturday with Consul-General Mohammed al-Otaibi, but the consulate said it cannot release surveillance footage.
“An official at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul dismessed [sic] the report by Reuters, which cited Turkish officials, that Saudi citizen Jamal Kashoggi was killed in the Consulate in Istanbul,” the Saudi Press Agency said Sunday in a statement. “The official strongly denounced these baseless allegations, and expressed his doubt that they came from Turkish officials that are informed of the investigation or are authorized to comment on the issue.”
Officials who spoke with The Washington Post and Reuters pointed to a group of 15 Saudi nationals that entered Turkey on Tuesday but has now left after briefly visiting the consulate.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and the country’s de facto ruler, has overseen reforms like allowing women to drive and an anti-corruption campaign. But his government has also jailed and executed critics whom it has generally accused of being either terrorists or spies.
Khashoggi was a U.S. resident and a Washington Post contributor. The State Department is “not in a position to confirm these reports” but is “following them closely,” and unnamed official told Reuters.
Previous administrations have been loath to criticize Saudi Arabia too harshly for its support of Islamic extremists, its ongoing war in Yemen, and its poor human rights record. But if the allegations are borne out, Khashoggi’s killing could strain the historically close relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
“If this is true — that the Saudis lured a U.S. resident into their consulate and murdered him — it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted Saturday.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) also said Sunday that he has contacted the State Department over the allegations.
“We must get to the bottom of what happened and then impose strong consequences,” Kaine tweeted. “Targeting journalists must stop.”
President Donald Trump has not commented on the current allegations, but during a rally in Mississippi on Wednesday he criticized Saudi Arabia for what he said is its reliance on U.S. support.
“We protect Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “Would you say they’re rich? And I love the king, King Salman. But I said ‘King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us.’”
Bin Salman appeared to take that jab in stride.
“I love working with him,” the crown prince said of Trump.