Turkish police sweep Mohammad al-Otaibi’s home and consular vehicles
Floodlights and a drone have been deployed in the search of the Saudi consul general’s residence in Istanbul after Turkish investigators were finally allowed access to the property, where it is believed a Saudi hit squad sent to silence the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi disposed of his remains.
The forensics team left the premises early on Thursday after conducting a nine hour-long sweep of the residence and consular vehicles. The consulate itself was also searched for a second time. Of particular focus to investigators appeared to be the garage below the consul general’s home and parts of the property’s garden were dug up.
It was not immediately clear what the search unearthed, although investigators took several boxes and bags with them. The Turkish interior ministry promised the results would be “shared with the world”.
On Thursday the Turkish pro-government newspaper Sabah published pictures taken from surveillance video outside the consulate which it said identified a man thought to be a member of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s security staff entering the building the morning of 2 October, the day Khashoggi vanished.
In the video, the suspect is seen arriving with several other men at 9.55am. The journalist arrived for an appointment at 1.14pm.
Sabah also published stills from videos that day which showed the same man outside the consul general’s home, and later checking out of a nearby hotel. The stills match the profile of one of the 15 Saudi nationals who were photographed two weeks ago at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport. Turkish officials believe that the 15-person team is behind the alleged murder inside the diplomatic mission.
A previous search of the consulate building on Monday night revealed “toxic substances” and freshly painted surfaces, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told reporters.
The consul general, Mohammad al-Otaibi, left the country with his family for Riyadh on Tuesday, after it was announced that his residence would become part of the criminal investigation.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who left Saudi Arabia for the US in self-imposed exile last year, has not been seen since he visited the consulate on 2 October to pick up paperwork for his planned marriage.
Over the past two weeks Turkish officials have leaked increasingly shocking evidence that they say proves that the journalist, who was critical of the Saudi crown prince, was tortured and killed inside the building, and his dismembered body driven to the nearby consul general’s house, where it was disposed of.
Turkish and US media published details from a three-minute audio recording on Wednesday that Turkish officials described as proof that Khashoggi had his fingers severed during an interrogation. His killers then allegedly beheaded him and cut up his body with a bone saw brought by a forensics specialist who travelled with the assassination team.
On the tape, the alleged doctor can be heard explaining that he likes to listen to music while he works, and encouraging others in the room to put headphones on.
Riyadh has denied the allegations, despite reports in the US media that the kingdom was considering acknowledging that Khashoggi may have died in a botched rendition operation.
On Thursday, the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said Saudi authorities needed to explain Khashoggi’s disappearance. They added his name to a growing list of government ministers and prominent business executives cancelling their attendance at a Saudi Arabia investment conference.
Paris and Riyadh enjoy close diplomatic ties and commercial relations spanning energy, finance and arms. Asked if the move might jeopardise bilateral relations between the countries, Le Maire said: “Absolutely not.”
Despite the growing body of evidence and a tide of international condemnation over the alleged murder, the House of Saud’s friends in the Trump administration have stood firmly next to their most important Arab ally.
Donald Trump has suggested on several occasions that he believes the denials of responsibility from the Saudi King Salman andMohammed bin Salman, speculating without providing evidence that “rogue killers” could be responsible.
On Wednesday night, the president said the US had asked Turkey to share the audio recording. He is waiting to be briefed on Thursday by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, whom he dispatched to Riyadh and Ankara this week in search of answers over Khashoggi’s disappearance.