As the US government ups the pressure on Saudi Arabia over the suspected killing of insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin surprising investors on Thursday by withdrawing from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s “Davos in the Desert,” and both President Trump and Vice President Pence stridently declaring that the Saudis would face consequences if they’re found to have been behind the man’s murder – Turkish investigators are testing DNA samples taken from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where the killing is believed to have taken place. And according to the BBC, investigators have started searching a nearby forest, as well as some farmland, where they believe Khashoggi’s remains may be found.
Anonymous sources – presumably senior Turkish prosecutors or government officials helping to oversee the investigation – said they believe Khashoggi’s body could be buried on farmland in the nearby Belgrad forest. Samples taken from the Saudi consulate and the consul’s residence during searches this week are being tested for a match with Mr Khashoggi’s DNA.
Saudi Arabia has said reports about their involvement in Khashoggi’s death are “completely false and baseless” and has launched an investigation that’s working with a separate Turkish probe to get to the bottom of what happened. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had asked Trump to give the Saudis “a few more days” to finish their investigation. Pompeo also promised that the US would draw its own conclusions in the investigation, and not rely solely on Saudi Arabia. The Secretary of State has also denied reports that Turkish officials played him an audio recording of Khashoggi’s agonizing final minutes, where the sounds of him being tortured, beaten and dismembered can reportedly be heard, alongside the voice of the Saudi consul.
Turkish officials have now searched the Saudi consulate twice, and have also examined the home of the Saudi Ambassador alongside investigators from Saudi Arabia. However, the Saudi consul has been recalled to Riyadh and placed under investigation. Meanwhile, amid reports that men with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman were involved in the killing, the kingdom appears to be setting up a senior intelligence official to take the fall for the killing. Though, to be sure, the Saudi’s official story hasn’t changed since they were first questioned about the disappearance of Khashoggi on Oct 3.
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In its report about the search for Khashoggi’s body, the BBC has published a helpful timeline of key developments in the case:
- 2 October
- 03:28: A private jet carrying suspected Saudi agents arrives at Istanbul airport. A second joins it late afternoon
- 12:13: Several diplomatic vehicles are filmed arriving at the consulate, allegedly carrying some of the Saudi agents
- 13:14: Mr Khashoggi enters the building, where he is due to pick up paperwork ahead of his marriage
- 15:08: Vehicles leave the consulate and are filmed arriving at the nearby Saudi consul’s residence
- 21:00: Both jets leave Turkey by 21:00
- 3 October
- Turkish government announces Mr Khashoggi is missing, thought to be in the consulate
- 4 October
- Saudi Arabia says he left the embassy
- 7 October
- Turkish officials tell the BBC they believed Mr Khashoggi was killed at the consulate. This is later strongly denied by Saudi Arabia
- 13 October
- Turkish officials tell BBC Arabic they have audio and video evidence of the killing . The existence of such tapes had previously been reported by local media
- 15 and 17-18 October
- Forensic teams carry out searches of consulate
It goes without saying that, should Turkish investigators uncover Khashoggi’s butchered remains, it would only serve to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on the kingdom.