The Latest On The Disappearance Of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
There are more details emerging about the disappearance of a Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in Turkey. Khashoggi is The Washington Post contributor who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. The Washington Post says it has been told by people with knowledge of the Turkish investigation into this disappearance that a team of 15 Saudi men flew into Istanbul on October 2, hours before Khashoggi was last seen entering the consulate. The Post is also reporting that those 15 men departed Istanbul later that very same day on flights to Cairo and to Dubai. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following all of this in Istanbul. And, Peter, what is standing out to you at this point as you learn more facts here?
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, I'd say the main news of the day is this publication in a Turkish pro-government paper of both the names and photos of the 15 Saudi men who police say arrived in Istanbul last Tuesday. That's the day of Khashoggi's disappearance. The paper described the men as an assassination squad, and other media are reporting that Turkey's intelligence service has identified several of the men. Some, they say, are military officers, including a special forces member. There is a reported Saudi intelligence officer in there and also a senior forensics expert. Turkish TV, meanwhile, is airing footage of Khashoggi entering the consulate on October 2 and of a black van leaving the consulate about two hours later, heading to the consul general's residence. There is a report as well that airport security X-rayed the luggage of some of the Saudi men as they prepared to leave Istanbul that same night, X-rayed the men themselves and reportedly, at the request of the intelligence service, searched one of the planes, one of the two planes. They apparently found nothing suspicious, allowed it to take off. But the focus seems to be on these 15 men and what they were doing here.
GREENE: Why search one of the two planes and not both the planes?
KENYON: Well, that's all we know based on the information we have so far. This is going to need some further explanation. It's not clear why that would be the case. What officials are anonymously talking about are further grisly details. One tells The New York Times that one of the Saudis was an autopsy expert and that a bone saw was used on the body after the murder.
GREENE: A bone saw, talk of an assassination squad - it sounds like Turkish authorities are moving towards the theory that this indeed was a targeted murder.
KENYON: Yes. It certainly seems that's the theory they're leaning towards. I don't think you can rule out the other possibility that Khashoggi was spirited out of the country. I don't think either one has been completely ruled out yet. Now, the Saudis, of course, deny any involvement with Khashoggi's disappearance. They claim he left the consulate within an hour of arriving, but they say they don't have any video evidence to back that up. Turkish police are going through their own camera footage. This is from the streets outside the consulate. They say, so far, they've seen footage of him going in but no footage of him coming out. They've also been invited to search the consulate building with Saudi permission. That, we're told, could happen as early as today. There's no word yet, I must say, on searching the consul general's residence where that black van went eight days ago.
GREENE: Peter, I mean, Saudi Arabia and Turkey weren't the best of friends, right? But what could - if indeed this journalist was killed on Turkish soil and the Saudi government has something to do with it, what could this do to the relationship between the two countries?
KENYON: Well, it would be a serious blow to relations that were already somewhat frayed. I mean, there's been ongoing tensions in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Turkey quite prominently took Qatar's side, so that hasn't helped. But this would be on another level completely. This is beyond the pale of anything that would have happened. And, again, as you say, if it's demonstrated that this happened - and the Saudis do deny it completely - but it would be a big blow, yeah.
GREENE: And the U.S. always under pressure to - by some to do more, to put more pressure on Saudi Arabia, which could grow here.
KENYON: Yes. Turkish media here are kind of surprised. Some headlines are showing a little bit of frustration. A big one says, quote, "Trump, I don't know anything about the Khashoggi case." So far, there isn't much sign that Washington is exerting pressure on Riyadh. Calls for U.S. investigators to join the probe are happening. We'll see if something like that occurs.
GREENE: NPR's Peter Kenyon. Thanks, Peter.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.