Turkey says it will search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as part of an investigation into the disappearance of a missing Saudi contributor to the Washington Post, a week after he vanished during a visit there.
The announcement came as a surveillance image surfaced of Jamal Khashoggi walking into the consulate just before he disappeared. Turkish officials fear the columnist was killed at the premises.
Saudi Arabia has called allegations that it killed the 59-year-old “baseless” but has offered no evidence to show he left the building.
US President Donald Trump has expressed concern about the writer’s disappearance, and secretary of state Mike Pompeo said US officials have raised the matter with their Saudi counterparts.
“We call on the government of Saudi Arabia to support a thorough investigation of Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation,” Mr Pompeo said.
Tuesday’s statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Saudi authorities have notified Ankara that they were “open to co-operation” and would allow the consulate building to be searched.
The ministry did not say when the premises would be searched.
A search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil and must be protected by host nations.
However, activists protesting outside the consulate said more needed to be done.
The surveillance image bore a date and time stamp, as well as a Turkish caption saying Mr Khashoggi was arriving at the consulate.
The Post, which first published the photo, said “a person close to the investigation” shared the image with them. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet also published the image.
The door Mr Khashoggi walked through appeared to be the main entrance of the consulate in Istanbul’s 4th Levent neighbourhood, a leafy, upscale district near the city’s financial hub which is home to several other consulates.
However, the consulate has other entrances and exits through which Saudi officials insist he left.
It is unclear which camera the footage came from or who operated it. However, a number of CCTV cameras surround the area. Friends of Mr Khashoggi say Turkish police have taken possession of footage from the neighbourhood as part of their investigation.
The Saudis have offered no surveillance footage or evidence to corroborate their claims that he left the consulate, and Turkish authorities have not provided evidence to show why they believe the columnist was killed there.
“If the story that was told about the murder is true, the Turks must have information and videotape and other documents to back it up,” said Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor.
“If the story the Saudis are telling, that he just walked out … after half an hour, if that’s true, they ought to have facts and documents and evidence and tapes to back that up.”
He added that the “idea of a government luring one of its own citizens on to its own diplomatic property in a foreign country to murder him for the peaceful expression of his views would be unimaginable”.
Mr Khashoggi had gone to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee. He had been living since last year in the US, in part due to the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has shown little tolerance for criticism.
As a contributor to the Post, Mr Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticising its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving.
Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince, who has also presided over a round-up of activists and businessmen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday urged the Saudis to back up their claim that Mr Khashoggi left the consulate.
“Now when this person enters, whose duty is it to prove that he left or not? It is (the duty) of the consulate officials,” he said. “Don’t you have cameras and other things? Why don’t you prove it? You have to prove it.”
Saudi Arabia is a long-time ally of the US, but on Monday senior officials in Washington expressed alarm over Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.
President Donald Trump said: “I don’t like hearing about it. And hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now, nobody knows anything about it, but there are some pretty bad stories going around. I do not like it.”