Paper prints photos of alleged “assassination squad” in Khashoggi case

ISTANBUL — A newspaper close to the Turkish president published photos Wednesday of what it said was a 15-member “assassination squad” allegedly sent to target Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week. Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate, allegations rejected by Saudi Arabia, which says he left the premises.

Turkey has been given permission to search the diplomatic post, an extraordinary development that shows the increasing international pressure the kingdom faces over Khashoggi’s disappearance.

The report by the Sabah newspaper, which is close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published images of the men apparently taken at passport control. It said they checked into two hotels in Istanbul on Oct. 2, the day Khashoggi went missing, and left later that day. 

The New York Times went further on Wednesday, citing an unnamed Turkish official as saying an order to kill Khashoggi had to have come from the highest levels of the Saudi royal court, given the complexity of the operation. The official told the Times that most of the 15 Saudis who came to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi disappeared had been identified by Turkish authorities, and that among them was an expert in autopsies who might have helped in dismembering the journalist’s body. The official told the Times that a bone saw was among the items brought into Turkey by the group. 

“It is like ‘Pulp Fiction,'” the official told the newspaper.  

Khashoggi had written a series of columns for the Washington Post that were critical of Saudi Arabia’s assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has led a widely publicized drive to reform the Sunni monarchy but has also presided over the arrests of activists and businessmen.

On Wednesday, the Post published a column by Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. She acknowledged the writer first visited the consulate on Sept. 28 “despite being somewhat concerned that he could be in danger.” He later returned Oct. 2 after being promised needed paperwork so the two could be married.

A surveillance video image surfaced Tuesday showing Khashoggi walking into the consulate in Istanbul’s upscale 4th Levent neighborhood. No evidence of him leaving the consulate has been made public, but Turkish officials also have yet to provide evidence he was kidnapped or killed.

“At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance,” Cengiz wrote. “I also urge Saudi Arabia, especially King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to show the same level of sensitivity and release CCTV footage from the consulate.”

She added: “Although this incident could potentially fuel a political crisis between the two nations, let us not lose sight of the human aspect of what happened.”

Khashoggi had sought to become a U.S. citizen after living in self-imposed exile since last year, fearing repercussions for his criticism of the prince, Cengiz wrote.

Trump, who took his first overseas trip as U.S. president to the kingdom and whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has close ties to Prince Mohammed, said Tuesday he had not yet talked to the Saudis about Khashoggi, “but I will be at some point,” without elaborating.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Tuesday that Saudi authorities have notified Ankara that they were “open to cooperation” and would allow the consulate building to be searched. It’s unclear when such a search would take place.

Embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil and must be protected by host nations. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to reassure its Western allies and the international community.

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