ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that his chief prosecutor has asked his Saudi counterpart to reveal who ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The killing has sparked a global firestorm, straining Ankara’s already fraught relationship with Riyadh and pressing the Trump administration to defend its most prized Middle Eastern ally, whose leadership is suspected of sending a 15-man hit squad to carry out the killing.
“Our prosecutor asked who sent the group that came here and said that this needed to be looked at,” Erdogan told reporters as he left parliament in Ankara.
“We cannot leave this issue unsolved,” he said. “We need to solve it now.”
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist, was last seen in grainy surveillance video on Oct. 2, entering Istanbul’s Saudi Consulate to retrieve paperwork for his upcoming marriage. Turkish officials say he was detained, tortured and dismembered — while his fiancee waited outside.
His remains have not been found.
Saud al-Mojeb, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor, met with his Turkish counterpart for the second time Tuesday before visiting the consulate, where the killing is alleged to have taken place, Turkish media reported. Riyadh has depicted the killing as a rogue act, arresting 18 suspects and condemning Khashoggi’s death. But Western officials have speculated that it was an audacious plan — which involved flying the hit squad to Istanbul on private jets and enlisting an apparent body double to leave the consulate after the killing— that would not have been possible without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
Cooperation with Saudi Arabia, and particularly with Mohammed, sits at the heart of the Trump administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Although this latest crisis has drawn strong rebukes from both parties in Congress, there are few indications that it will fundamentally change the relationship between the two nations.
In an address to parliament Tuesday, Erdogan appeared more muted in his criticism of Saudi Arabia than in previous weeks. He did not mention Khashoggi by name and fell back on earlier talking points without upping the ante.
“There is no reason to beat around the bush. Or, there is no reason to save someone from beneath this,” he said. “We must overcome this with our mechanisms of justice and politics.”
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for Human Rights, called Tuesday for an independent investigation, involving international experts, of what she described as a “shockingly brazen crime.”
Saudi Arabia has undergone sweeping social reforms during Mohammed’s time effectively ruling the kingdom. Long-standing restrictions, including a ban on women driving, have been overturned to global acclaim.
But a political crackdown has been accelerating at the same time. Prominent activists and clerics have been jailed. Last November, dozens of princes from the extended royal family also were detained at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel as part of what Mohammed’s inner circle characterized as an anti-corruption drive.
Although long considered a frank voice, Khashoggi was once a palace insider, serving first as an adviser to Prince Turki bin Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence, and later as a de facto spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
More recently, he had grown disillusioned with the kingdom’s rising oppression, addressing the subject in columns for The Post. He also angered Saudi authorities by criticizing the election of Donald Trump.
“For an investigation to be carried out free of any appearance of political considerations, the involvement of international experts, with full access to evidence and witnesses, would be highly desirable,” Bachelet said in a statement.
The journalist’s family and friends are pushing for answers. “We want everyone involved, from top to bottom, to face justice,” Hatice Cengiz, his Turkish fiancee, said in an emotional interview broadcast by the BBC on Monday.
Cengiz had waited outside Istanbul’s Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2, raising the alarm when Khashoggi did not emerge and refusing to leave until the early hours of the next morning. “We didn’t say any goodbyes,” she told the interviewer.
“At least he had someone he loved at the end of his life. Maybe that crossed his mind in his last minutes.”
Zeynep Karatas contributed to this report.