Saudis to Turkey: Search our consulate for missing WaPo columnist, dissenter

Where in the world is Jamal Khashoggi? The Washington Post columnist and gadfly to the Saudi royal family disappeared a week ago after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to settle some paperwork. Turkey has demanded answers about what happened to the exile in the building, and the government has summoned the Saudi ambassador twice to get them.

The Saudis insist that Khashoggi left the consulate alive, and today they agreed to allow Turkish authorities to search the consulate — a rare concession of diplomatic sovereignty:

Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Turkish authorities search the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate after prominent journalist and Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing last week, the Turkish foreign ministry said Tuesday.

“Saudi authorities said they were open to cooperation and that a search can be conducted at the consulate building,” the ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

Aksoy added the search will take place as part of the official investigation, which was being conducted “in an intense manner”, though he did not say when.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who had been published in the Arab and Western media, vanished last Tuesday after visiting the consulate to obtain official documents.

The agreement came after Turkey’s strongman leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that the Saudis prove that Khashoggi left the consulate alive. The Washington Post reports that a new theory has emerged with Turkish authorities — that the Saudis used diplomatic security to bring in a hit squad to kill Khashoggi after luring him to the consulate:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded Monday that Saudi Arabia prove that journalist Jamal Khashoggi left the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on his own, as Saudi officials have repeatedly asserted, after he disappeared last week while inside the mission.

Erdogan’s comments were his most direct suggestion yet of potential Saudi culpability in Khashoggi’s disappearance. But other Turkish officials have said they believe that Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the consulate. …

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, 59, a critic of the Saudi leadership and a contributor to The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, was killed by a team of 15 Saudis flown in specifically to carry out the attack. Saudi authorities have called the allegation “baseless.”

If so, the plot sounds like something right out of Goodfellas:

A report Monday in the daily newspaper Sabah said investigators were also focused on a convoy of diplomatic vehicles that departed from the consulate on the day Khashoggi vanished. A U.S. official said that Turkish investigators believe Khashoggi was probably dismembered and his body removed in boxes and flown out of the country.

The US has begun its own diplomatic throat-clearing on Khashoggi. Donald Trump commented on the disappearance in his press conference yesterday, saying “I do nor like it” and expressing hope that the issue will “sort itself out.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed the Saudis a little harder to sort it out themselves, calling for “a thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Lindsey Graham issued a similar and bipartisan warning to the Saudis on Twitter yesterday:

For the moment, the Saudis are insisting that they had nothing to do with Khashoggi’s fate, whatever it might be. Their ambassador to the US insists that he personally had a friendly relationship with Khashoggi and remained in contact whenever both of them were in Washington. That doesn’t negate the fact that Khashoggi disappeared at or about the time he was supposed to be inside the consulate, and those circumstances don’t leave a lot of room for other suspects. The Turks would have little incentive to bump off a critic of the Sauds, although they would have every incentive to make the Sauds the villains. It could have been a random murder — but if that was the case, where’s the body? Assuming, of course, that Khashoggi is actually deceased rather than having been spirited back to Riyadh.

The next step will be the search, which is almost certain to produce nothing. If there was evidence of a crime there, it will have been cleaned up days ago. If the Sauds conducted a hit on Khashoggi, they’ll have to hope that no one talks and their allies eventually forget about it. But if they did bring in a hit squad to conduct a murder, the members of that team had better get their affairs in order tout suite. The Sauds won’t want any potential loose ends.