A friend of a Washington Post journalist who went missing in Istanbul has said that Turkish officials told him to make “funeral preparations” because the reporter “was killed” at the Saudi consulate.
Another official separately told the AP that authorities believe Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the consulate while another said it was a “high probability”.
Saudi officials have denied the allegations, calling them “baseless”.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “God willing, we will not be faced with the situation we do not desire” when asked by journalists about Mr Khashoggi.
The growing dispute over his fate threatens relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey and raises new questions about the kingdom and the actions of its assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Mr Khashoggi wrote critically about in his columns.
Turan Kislakci, a friend of Mr Khashoggi and the head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association, spoke to the AP on Sunday outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He said he believes Turkish officials soon will announce the findings of their investigation.
“What was explained to us is this: He was killed, make your funeral preparations,” Mr Kislakci said.
“We called a few other places, these are lower officials, but they said: ‘We have evidence he was killed in a barbaric way, we will announce it tomorrow or the day after.’”
Mr Kislakci also alleged, based on conversations with officials he did not name, that Mr Khashoggi was made to “faint” then was dismembered. A Turkish official told the AP that an “initial assessment” by police concluded Mr Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate.
On Sunday, another official assessed it as “high probability” that Mr Khashoggi was killed in the consulate and his body was taken away. The Post reported on the police’s theory late on Saturday, citing two anonymous sources.
“If the reports of Jamal’s murder are true, it is a monstrous and unfathomable act,” the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said. “Jamal was — or, as we hope, is — a committed, courageous journalist. He writes out of a sense of love for his country and deep faith in human dignity and freedom.”
The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried a statement from the Istanbul consulate that “strongly denounced these baseless allegations”.
It said Saudi Arabia sent a team of investigators to help look into the case.
Mr Khashoggi, 59, went missing while on a visit to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee.
The consulate insists the writer left its premises, contradicting Turkish officials. He had been living since last year in the US in a self-imposed exile, in part due to the rise of Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman.
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.
All those issues have been viewed as being pushed by Prince Mohammed, who similarly has led round-ups of activists, businessmen and others in the kingdom. On Sunday, Mr Erdogan did not directly repeat the investigators’ fears about Mr Khashoggi being dead when talking to reporters following a meeting of his Justice and Development Party in Ankara.
“Everything is being inspected, especially entries and exits out of Istanbul, the airport,” he said. “Right now we are waiting persistently to see what the prosecutor will decide, what it will announce as a result of these pursuits.”
Mr Erdogan promised to follow up personally on the case of Mr Khashoggi, whom he referred to as “a journalist and a friend”.
“It’s very, very sad for us that this happened in our country,” the Turkish president said.