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.
In Washington, President Donald Trump expressed reservations over withholding American arm sales over the writer, even as prominent American lawmakers increasingly criticize Saudi Arabia — America’s longtime security ally in the region.
Turkish officials say they fear Saudi Arabia killed and dismembered Khashoggi, without offering evidence explaining why they believe that. Khashoggi contributed columns to the Post, including some critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia, before going silent in recent days, called the allegation it abducted or harmed Khashoggi “baseless.” However, it too has offered no evidence to support its claim the writer simply walked out of its consulate and vanished despite his fiancée waiting outside for him.
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 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 1.2 miles away to the consul’s residence.
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