ISTANBUL (AP) — A friend of a prominent Saudi journalist who went missing in Istanbul said Sunday that officials told him to “make your funeral preparations” as the Washington Post contributor “was killed” at the Saudi Consulate.
A Turkish official separately told The Associated Press that authorities believe Jamal Khashoggi was slain at the Saudi Consulate, while another said it was a “high probability.”
Saudi officials have denied allegations that Khashoggi was killed at the consulate, calling them “baseless.”
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “God willing, we will not be faced with the situation we do not desire” when asked by journalists about Khashoggi.
The growing dispute over his fate threatens relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey and raises new questions about the kingdom and the actions of its assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi wrote critically about in his columns.
Turan Kislakci, a friend of Khashoggi and the head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association, spoke to the AP on Sunday outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He said he believes Turkish officials soon will announce the findings of their investigation.
“What was explained to us is this: He was killed, make your funeral preparations,” Kislakci said. “We called a few other places, these are lower officials, but they said: ‘We have evidence he was killed in a barbaric way, we will announce it tomorrow or the day after.'”
Kislakci also alleged, based on conversations with officials he did not name, that Khashoggi was made to “faint,” then was dismembered.
A Turkish official told the AP late Saturday that an “initial assessment” by police concluded Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate. On Sunday, another official assessed it as “high probability” that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate and his body was taken away. Both spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation was ongoing.
The Post reported on the police’s theory late Saturday, citing two anonymous sources.
“If the reports of Jamal’s murder are true, it is a monstrous and unfathomable act,” the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement. “Jamal was — or, as we hope, is — a committed, courageous journalist. He writes out of a sense of love for his country and deep faith in human dignity and freedom.”
The state-run Saudi Press Agency early Sunday morning carried a statement from the Istanbul Consulate that “strongly denounced these baseless allegations,” and expressed doubt that they came from Turkish officials that are informed of the investigation or are authorized to comment on the issue. It said Saudi Arabia sent a team of investigators to help look into the case.
Khashoggi, 59, went missing while on a visit to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée. The consulate insists the writer left its premises, contradicting Turkish officials. He had been living since last year in the U.S. in a self-imposed exile, in part due to the rise of Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman.
As a contributor to the Post, Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. All those issues have been viewed as being pushed by Prince Mohammed, who similarly has led roundups of activists, businessmen and others in the kingdom.
On Sunday, Erdogan did not directly repeat the investigators’ fears about Khashoggi being dead when talking to reporters following a meeting of his Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.
“Everything is being inspected, especially entries and exits out of Istanbul, the airport,” he said. “Right now we are waiting persistently to see what the prosecutor will decide, what it will announce as a result of these pursuits.”
Erdogan promised to follow up personally on the case of Khashoggi, whom he referred to as “a journalist and a friend.”
“It’s very, very sad for us that this happened in our country,” the Turkish president said.
Meanwhile, press freedom groups and human rights organizations continued their call for more information about Khashoggi’s case and his alleged slaying.
“If true, this would be an abysmal new low. Such an assassination within the grounds of the Consulate, which is territory under Saudi Arabian jurisdiction, would amount to an extrajudicial execution,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Mideast research director. “This case sends a shockwave among Saudi Arabian human rights defenders and dissidents everywhere, eroding any notion of seeking safe haven abroad.”
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey and Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.