0308 GMT December 06, 2019
Khashoggi was last seen a week ago entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to get documents related to his forthcoming marriage. His fiancée, waiting outside, said he never emerged and Turkish sources said they believe Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi policies, was killed inside the mission.
Saudi Arabia has dismissed as baseless accusations that it killed or abducted Khashoggi. Saudi authorities have so far not commented on the 15 nationals reported to have come to Turkey.
A Turkish security source had previously told Reuters that a group of 15 Saudi nationals, including some officials, arrived in Istanbul and entered the consulate on Oct. 2, the same day Khashoggi was there, and later left the country.
Sabah newspaper published the names and years of birth of 15 Saudis it said arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on Oct. 2. Twelve of them arrived early on Tuesday, based on photos captured at passport control which it published. The 15 departed at four different times, Sabah reported.
The report also said that the Saudis stayed at the Wyndham and Movenpick hotels in Istanbul, in the same neighborhood as the Saudi Consulate. Both hotels declined to comment on the report.
One of the men identified by name and photo in the Sabah report is a Saudi forensic expert, according to Saudi media reports, and is on the board of the Saudi Society of Forensic Medicine.
Turkish NTV broadcast videos of what it said were the men arriving at the airport and checking into one hotel, as well as videos of what it said was a large van arriving at the consul general’s residence two hours after Khashoggi had entered the consulate.
AFP reported on Wednesday that Turkish investigators are examining CCTV footage showing the moment missing Saudi journalist entered the kingdom’s consulate and the movements of a team suspected of involvement in his disappearance.
Government sources said at the weekend that police believed Khashoggi was killed by a team especially sent to Istanbul and thought to consist of 15 Saudis.
CCTV released on Wednesday by Turkish TV showed a man believed to be Khashoggi enter the consulate as well as a vehicle of interest entering and leaving the building after Khashoggi went inside.
Khashoggi, a former Saudi government adviser, had been living in the United States since last year, fearing arrest.
He has been critical of some policies of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Riyadh’s intervention in the war in Yemen.
Turkish police were looking into two private aircraft that landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on October 2 at different times, carrying the individuals of interest in the case.
A source told the Washington Post that US intelligence “intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him.”
The same source said the Saudis hoped to “lure” Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia “and lay hands on him there.”
According to Hurriyet daily, nine Saudis who arrived in Istanbul on the same day that the journalist vanished, had bought luggage at the Grand Bazaar. However, a police search revealed that they did not take the luggage on their return.
Turkey has said Saudi authorities gave officials the greenlight to search the consulate but it has not yet taken place.
As pressure increases on Washington to intervene on the issue, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the US was following the situation “very closely.”
US President Donald Trump expressed concern about the case while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously called for a thorough investigation.
In his last interview three days before his disappearance, Khashoggi said that he did not think he would return to Saudi Arabia.
“When I hear of the arrest of a friend who did nothing that [deserved being] arrested, it makes me feel I shouldn’t go,” he told the BBC.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which ranks the kingdom 169th out of 180 on its World Press Freedom Index, said in a statement that between 25 and 30 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained in Saudi Arabia.
RSF said that at least 15 Saudi journalists and bloggers have been arrested since September 2017.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.