Turkish officials say they have evidence Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Istanbul. Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo is in Ankara where he briefed Turkish officials on his talks with Saudi leaders who deny any knowledge of Khashoggi's fate.

Jamal Khashoggi has long been feared killed at the consulate after he entered the Saudi Consulate building in Istanbul on October 2 and was never seen exiting.
Jamal Khashoggi has long been feared killed at the consulate after he entered the Saudi Consulate building in Istanbul on October 2 and was never seen exiting. (AA)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu have met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Ankara who briefed them on his talks in Riyadh on Tuesday with Saudi leaders who deny any knowledge of the fate of prominent Saudi journalist and government critic, Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a US resident, has not been seen in public since he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

After his meeting with Pompeo, the Turkish Foreign Minister said the investigation at the Saudi Consul's residence in Istanbul will continue along with all consular vehicles.

Cavusoglu said Pompeo communicated US President Donald Trump’s messages and concerns regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance to President Erdogan.

"Cut into pieces"

Unnamed Turkish officials told CNN on Tuesday that Khashoggi’s body was "cut into pieces" after he was killed at the consular building. Separately, a high-level Turkish official speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said police have found "certain evidence" during their search of the Saudi Consulate showing that Khashoggi was killed there.

The official did not provide details on the evidence that was recovered during the hours-long search at the diplomatic mission that ended early on Tuesday.

There is as yet no official word from Turkey or Saudi Arabia, who are jointly investigating the Riyadh critic’s disappearance, whether Khashoggi was actually murdered or killed by accident and whether Saudi Arabia was involved if his death is confirmed.

US media, citing anonymous sources familiar with the case reported on Monday that Saudi Arabia was preparing to admit Khashoggi had died during an uncommissioned interrogation at the consulate on October 2.

However, with the arrival of US President Donald's Trump's top diplomat in Riyadh, the official US narrative has become one of wait and see.

US President Donald Trump on Saturday had called for "severe punishment" of ally and oil spigot Saudi Arabia if Riyadh was shown to be involved.

But after Saudia Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman both denied any knowledge of Khashoggi's fate in their conversations with US state secretary Mike Pompeo, Trump said, “Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Saudi consul general reportedly leaves Istanbul

Saudi Arabia's consul general to Istanbul, Mohammed al Otaibi, reportedly left Turkey for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday on a scheduled flight. Otaibi took off for Riyadh on a 1400 GMT flight from Istanbul, the Haber-Turk newspaper reported on its website. The state-run Anadolu news agency also reported he had left Turkey. 

The website of Ataturk International Airport showed a flight of flag-carrier Saudia took off for Riyadh at 1400 GMT. Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the consul left the country.

Security forces began setting up barricades in front of the residence just hours after Otaibi allegedly flew out. 

Saudi crown prince tells Trump he knows nothing

Trump said Tuesday he spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who “denied any knowledge” of Khashoggi's whereabouts or fate.

“Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,” the president tweeted. “He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the call, and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.”

Pompeo was dispatched by Trump to Riyadh and Turkey over the Khashoggi case. 

He met King Salman on Tuesday and later with the crown prince who both denied any knowledge of what happened to the Riyadh critic after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

TRT World's Jon Brain reports.

Senior US lawmaker sees Saudi involvement

Trump's apparent willingness to take the Saudi denials at face value is in stark contrast to senior US lawmakers, including from within the Republican Party.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a strong Trump ally in Congress, called bin Salman a “wrecking ball” and “toxic” figure.

“He’s the 33-year-old prince who jumped over people. He’s the son of the existing king. I think he’s on a bad track. I can never do business with Saudi Arabia again until we get this behind us.”

Graham has previously been a strong advocate for Saudi Arabia. But even in the absence so far of corroborating evidence that the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi's disappearance, he indicted bin Salman: “He had this guy murdered in the consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it? I feel used and abused," Graham told Fox News.

The South Carolina Republican said bin Salman “can never be a world leader on the world stage.”

“Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing about it,” Graham said, using the acronym for the presumed heir-apparent to the Saudi throne.

“This guy has got to go. Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening. There’s a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself,” Graham said.

How much blame for Khashoggi’s disappearance or death eventually settles on the crown prince will be a decisive factor in his standing in the eyes of the world and could affect his standing within the Saudi royal family.

Suspects reportedly have ties to bin Salman, Saudi government

One of the suspected Saudi agents whom Turkey says were briefly in Istanbul at the time of Khashoggi's disappearance was frequently seen with bin Salman, according to The New York Times.

The US paper reported on Tuesday the suspect was seen in the company of the crown prince in Paris, Madrid, Houston, Boston and at the United Nations.

The New York Times linked three others to the crown prince’s security detail. It also reported that a fifth suspect identified by Turkey is a forensic doctor who holds a senior position in the Saudi interior ministry.

The New York Times said it had independently confirmed that at least nine of the 15 suspects identified by Turkey worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries.

Turkey is continuing to look for answers

Cavusoglu on Tuesday said no confession from the Saudi side has been made yet regarding the missing journalist. 

The foreign minister added that Turkey has given the prosecutor permission to ask for the testimony of people at the Saudi consulate who it deems is related to the investigation into the disappearance.

Erdogan on Tuesday said he hopes a reasonable opinion will be reached as soon as possible in the investigation, adding the search in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul will continue with the investigation also looking into toxic materials.

Erdogan further said there is a possibility that parts of the Saudi Consulate had been repainted. Turkish police teams arrived at the Saudi consul general's residence in Istanbul on Tuesday and started searching it in relation to the case. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies