A black van that allegedly carried the body of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to the consul’s residence was searched for three hours by Turkish forensics expert, local media reported Oct. 19.
Khashoggi, a dissident living in self-imposed exile in the United States where he contributed to the Washington Post, vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Turkish officials claim Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered in the consulate by a hit squad which arrived from Riyadh — claims denied by the Saudi government.
Saudi Consul Mohammad al-Otaibi returned to Saudi Arabia on Oct. 16 before his residence in Istanbul was searched by police for more than eight hours on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18. The consulate building was also searched twice.
A Mercedes Sprinter with the license plate number 34 CC 2342 could be seen in the last footage showing Khashoggi entering the consulate. Turkish police focused on another consular vehicle, a Mercedes Vito with the license plate of 34 CC 1865, because it was seen in other footage while going back and forth between the consulate and the consul’s residence after the journalist’s disappearance. “34” corresponds to the code for Istanbul and “CC” means that it is a vehicle used by a consulate.
According to a report published by daily Yeni Şafak on Oct. 19, the suspected black van was found by the Turkish police in the closed garage of the consulate during the search. Turkish officials suspect that the Saudi “hit squad” used it to carry the body of the journalist from the consulate to the consul’s residence.
The vehicle had left the consulate and arrived at about 200 meters away at the consul’s residence at 3:09 pm, about two hours after Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate.
Forensics teams studied in the van for three hours by using special chemicals, including Luminol, to find any evidence on the suspected murder, the report said.
Turkish police are also investigating other consular vehicles that visited places in and around Istanbul immediately after the disappearance.
Trump ‘now believes Khashoggi is dead’
After more than two weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump said Oct. 18 that he now believes Khashoggi is dead and warned of “very severe” consequences should Saudi Arabia be proven responsible.
“It certainly looks that way to me. It’s very sad,” Trump told journalists when asked if he believed that Khashoggi is no longer alive.
Asked about the potential US response to Saudi Arabia, which is accused of murdering the Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi regime, Trump said: “It will have to be very severe. It’s bad, bad stuff.”
This marked a hardening of tone from the Trump administration, which has been reluctant to blame ally, Saudi Arabia, despite mounting evidence that the kingdom’s agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago.
A former regime insider, Khashoggi had become a critic of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the point man in the ever-tightening military and commercial relations between the oil-state and the Trump administration.
Just hours earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had told Trump the Saudis should be given “a few more days to complete” an investigation.
Only then, Pompeo said, “we can make decisions how or if the United States should respond.”
Saudi General al-Assiri may be blamed
In a possible sign of how the Saudis will seek to defuse the diplomatic crisis, The New York Times reported that the country’s rulers could come out and blame General Ahmed al-Assiri, a top intelligence official close to the crown prince.
Four prominent human rights and press freedom groups on Oct. 18 urged Turkey to request a United Nations investigation to prevent a “whitewash” of the alleged crime.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders said such a probe established by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would finally clear up the affair.
But the United States, the Saudis’ most powerful patron, has repeatedly given the country’s royals the benefit of the doubt, with Trump and top officials stressing that the US-Saudi relationship cannot be put at risk.
Trump has repeatedly praised massive Saudi arms purchases, while Pompeo used much of his brief remarks on Oct. 18 to recall Washington’s “long strategic relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudis “continue to be an important counter-terrorism partner, they have custody of the two holy sites… We need to be mindful of that as well,” he said.
Neither Turkey nor the United States has publicly confirmed that Khashoggi is dead or said officially that Riyadh is to blame.
But a steady stream of unconfirmed leaks from officials to Turkish media have painted a detailed and horrifying picture of Khashoggi’s last minutes, allegedly at the hands of 15 Saudi agents waiting for him when he came to the consulate for paperwork.
– New York Times I Hurriyet Daily News