Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist living in self-imposed exile, went missing on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. His disappearance has sparked international outrage and a slew of conflicting theories about what happened to him.
Here’s what we know:
Who is Jamal Khashoggi?
Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post. The journalist was employed by the kingdom’s media and government organizations for years and was at one point close to the Saudi royal family. But he became critical of Saudi policies in recent years ― including a sweeping crackdown on human rights activists and a military campaign in Yemen. He still considered himself a patriot and rejected the label “dissident.”
Nonetheless, he had been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for more than a year after the Saudi government censored him on social media and pressured the popular Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat to cancel his column.
What are the circumstances surrounding his disappearance?
Khashoggi traveled to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Sept. 28 to obtain a certificate that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. He was told he would have to return, and he made arrangements to do so on Oct. 2, after a brief visit to London to speak at a conference.
He returned to Istanbul on Oct. 1 and went to the Saudi Consulate the following day just after 1 p.m., Cengiz said. She said she waited outside for him until after midnight and never saw him exit. She returned to the consulate the next day, she said, and there was still no sign of him.
On the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance, 15 Saudi officials and intelligence officers arrived in Istanbul on two private jets. Both planes are owned by Sky Prime Aviation Services, a company frequently used by the Saudi government. Some of the officials were transported in a tinted van to the home of the Saudi consul general roughly three hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate, and then all of them left the country on planes departing for Cairo and Dubai. Turkish staffers at the residence say they were abruptly told to take that day off.
Was there any indication he was in danger?
He was critical of the repression of Saudi citizens under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi was “increasingly worried about an unprecedented wave of arrests in his country,” wrote Cengiz in an op-ed for the Post on Tuesday. But he wasn’t aware of any warrant for his arrest and was confident nothing would happen to him on Turkish soil. “It would be a violation of international law to harm, arrest or detain people at a diplomatic mission, he said, and noted that no such thing had ever happened in Turkey’s history,” she continued. A positive first meeting with staff at the consulate on Sept. 28 dispelled any initial fears he had. “He walked into the consulate of Saudi Arabia, his native country, without doubting he would be safe there.”
What does the Saudi government say?
The Saudi government has denied any foul play in Khashoggi’s disappearance and maintains that he left the consulate on foot shortly after getting the marriage document. In an interview with Bloomberg on Oct. 3, Mohammed expressed concern for the journalist. “He’s a Saudi citizen and we are very keen to know what happened to him,” Mohammed said. “And we will continue our dialogue with the Turkish government to see what happened to Jamal there.”
What does Turkey say?
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a news conference on Monday pressed Saudi officials to provide evidence backing their claim that Khashoggi freely left the consulate. “We have to get an outcome from this investigation as soon as possible. The consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying ‘he has left,’” Erdogan said.
Top Turkish security officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the journalist was assassinated at the consulate on orders from Saudi Arabia’s royal court.
“We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate,” one Turkish official told Reuters.
A Turkish official told The New York Times that Khashoggi was killed within hours of arriving at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, including an autopsy expert who helped dismember his body.
But the Turkish government has not publicly accused Saudi Arabia of killing Khashoggi. Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Erdogan and a close friend of Khashoggi’s, initially said the officials from Riyadh might have killed him but walked back those claims. “The Saudi state is not blamed here,” he later said in an interview with al-Araby.
What has the U.S. said?
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday urged Saudi leaders “to support a thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation.”
President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he had spoken to Saudi officials “more than once” about the journalist’s disappearance and suggested that Khashoggi’s fiancée may soon visit the White House.
The Post’s CEO and publisher, Fred Ryan, said in a tweet that evidence thus far has “suggested [Khashoggi] was a victim of state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.”
Who is investigating?
Turkish officials have opened a criminal investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. The governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that Turkish police have been authorized to search the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
One person briefed on the matter told the Times on condition of anonymity that Turkish intelligence had obtained video footage allegedly showing the journalist’s killing. Kemal Ozturk, a columnist close to Erdogan’s government said the same publicly on Tuesday.
The Daily Sabah, a publication with close ties to the Turkish government, reported Tuesday that the investigation was shifting to probe whether Khashoggi was abducted and not killed, though some anonymous officials contradicted this report.
Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday said the U.S. “stands ready to assist in any way” with an investigation into the journalist’s disappearance.
How does the Turkey–Saudi Arabia relationship play into this?
In the wake of international calls on Saudi leaders to explain Khashoggi’s disappearance, the kingdom’s defenders began pushing a counternarrative that shifted culpability onto Turkey and Qatar, whose governments have had years of tensions with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a key Saudi ally.
Pro-Saudi commentators have attempted to frame the kingdom as a long-suffering victim of fake news propagated by hostile neighbors.
Erdogan’s reticence to outright accuse Saudi Arabia of killing Khashoggi and officials’ apparent attempts to walk back earlier claims may signal an effort to maintain relations with the wealthy kingdom as Turkey grapples with its slowing economy and a regional power struggle over the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria.
Senior Turkish officials have privately told European and American counterparts, The Guardian reported, that even if Khashoggi was killed, government leaders may be willing to turn a blind eye to preserve trade ties and a delicate regional relationship.
Akbar Shahid Ahmed contributed to this report.