The U.S. State Department has called on Saudi Arabia to conduct a “thorough” probe into the mysterious disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose case sparked international concern over the kingdom’s apparent crackdown on dissent.
Khashoggi, a regime critic and prominent journalist in Saudi Arabia, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Officials in Turkey believe he was murdered inside the building, while the Saudis claim he left the building unharmed. Khashoggi also is a Washington Post contributor.
In response, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Saudi government to be “transparent” about the results of any investigation.
“We have seen conflicting reports on the safety and whereabouts of prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi,” Pompeo said in an Oct. 8 statement. “As the President has conveyed, the United States is concerned by his disappearance.”
Pompeo noted that senior officials in the State Department have connected with Kingdom officials through diplomatic channels regarding the case.
“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,” he said.
Khashoggi had entered the consulate to get documents for his forthcoming marriage. The Saudi government has repeatedly claimed that Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, but his fiancee who was waiting outside said he never appeared.
President Donald Trump also publicly expressed concern over the reports surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“I am concerned about it. I don’t like hearing about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Oct. 8. “Hopefully, that will sort itself out. Right now, nobody knows anything about it.”
Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia last year, saying he feared retribution for his criticism of Saudi policy in the Yemen war and its crackdown on dissent.
Several news organizations have cited anonymous Turkish officials claiming that Khashoggi was the victim of a premeditated murder inside the consulate; Saudi officials have denied those allegations.
Vice President Mike Pence echoed the president’s remarks and said the international community “deserves answers.”
“Deeply troubled to hear reports about Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If true, this is a tragic day,” Pence wrote on Twitter. “Violence against journalists across the globe is a threat to freedom of the press & human rights.”
At the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Saudi Arabia to prove its claim that Khashoggi left the consulate safely.
“We have to get an outcome from this investigation as soon as possible. Consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying ‘he has left,’” Erdogan told a news conference in Budapest, where he is on an official visit.
Erdogan, who said he’s personally following the case, added that Turkey had no documents or evidence regarding the case.
Turkey said it would search Saudi Arabia’s consulate. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the investigation was “continuing intensively.” The Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations allows for consulates to be searched by authorities of a host country with consent of the mission chief, he said.
“The consulate building will be searched in the framework of the investigation,” Aksoy said in a written statement.
Khashoggi, a familiar face on political talk shows on Arab satellite television networks, had been an adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States and Britain.
Reuters contributed to this report.