Turkey’s foreign ministry had summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Ankara over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two days ago.
Turkish diplomatic sources as well as Anadolu news agency on Thursday said the Saudi ambassador was received by Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran on Wednesday “for consultations” over the critic’s disappearance.
A Saudi Press Agency statement said while the consulate did not challenge that Khashoggi disappeared during a visit to the diplomatic post, it was working with Turkish authorities to find the dissident writer.
“The consulate confirmed that it is carrying out follow-up procedures and coordination with the Turkish local authorities to uncover the circumstances of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after he left the consulate building,” it said without elaborating.
The statement followed a spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling reporters on Wednesday night that he believed the journalist was still inside the consulate.
“According to the information we have, this person, who is a Saudi citizen, is still at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,” Ibrahim Kalin said. “We don’t have information to the contrary.”
Thursday’s developments add to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Khashoggi, who had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since hed he fled the kingdom in September 2017.
The 59-year-old was critical of the Saudi government’s reform programme under the stewardship of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice,” he wrote in September 2017. “To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot.”
Khashoggi’s disappearance threatens to further deteriorate relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are on the opposite sides in the four-nation boycott of Qatar and other regional crises.
On Tuesday, Khashoggi entered the consulate to get paperwork he needed in order to be married next week, said his fiancée Hatice, who gave only her first name for fear of retribution.
He gave her his mobile phones for safekeeping, a common occurrence as many embassies routinely require that phones be left outside as a security precaution.
Hours later, Khashoggi hadn’t emerged and Hatice recounted how she called his friends in a panic.
“He is not a suspect … He is just a man whose country doesn’t like his writings or his opinions,” she told The Associated Press news agency.
Khashoggi regularly wrote for the Washington Post, criticising Saudi policies towards Qatar and Canada, the war in Yemen, and a crackdown on dissent and the media in the kingdom.
The Washington Post said it was “extremely concerned” about him.
“We have reached out to anyone we think might be able to help locate him and assure his safety, including US, Turkish and Saudi officials,” the Post’s Fred Hiatt said in a statement.
Ali Shihabi, head of the Arabia Foundation in Washington, which backs the Saudi regime, posted on Twitter: “Jamal and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues but having him go missing like this is awful.”
Khashoggi was known for his interviews and travels with Osama bin Laden between 1987 and 1995, including in Afghanistan, where he wrote about the battle against the Soviet occupation.
In the early 1990s, he tried to persuade bin Laden to reconcile with the Saudi royal family and return home from his base in Sudan, but the al-Qaeda leader refused.