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Mystery over missing writer deepens as Saudi Arabia and Turkey disagree over his status  

A security guard stands on a blocked road leading to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday.
A security guard stands on a blocked road leading to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday. (AP)

LONDON — The mystery surrounding the whereabouts of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi deepened Wednesday with Turkish officials saying he was still inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, contradicting a Saudi government statement that he had left it a day earlier.

Khashoggi, 59, a prominent commentator who writes for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section and has recently been critical of the Saudi leadership, visited the consulate Tuesday to obtain paperwork related to his upcoming wedding, his fiancee said. He has not been heard from since.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said during a televised news conference Wednesday that “the information we have is that the Saudi citizen in question is still in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.” 

Kalin raised concerns about the legality of the apparent detention, saying that Khashoggi’s disappearance “has a dimension of international law. There is a dimension of the law of the Turkish republic.”

But an emailed statement from the Saudi government earlier Wednesday called reports that Khashoggi was missing “false.”

“Mr. Khashoggi visited the consulate to request paperwork related to his marital status and exited shortly thereafter,” said the statement, which was attributed to an unnamed Saudi official.

In a subsequent statement issued early Thursday, the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul said “it was following-up on the media reports of the disappearance of Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi after he left the building of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.” The statement added that the consulate was “carrying out follow-up procedures in coordination with the Turkish local authorities to uncover the circumstances of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after departing the Consulate.”

On Wednesday, the State Department requested information from the Saudi government about Khashoggi’s whereabouts and expressed concern about his safety, a senior U.S. official said. There was no immediate response from the Saudis, said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to describe the diplomatic effort on the record.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on the phone Wednesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but a State Department official declined to say whether the two discussed Khashoggi’s status, citing “private diplomatic discussions.” According to a readout of the call, they discussed the war in Yemen, countering Iran and “areas for expanding U.S.-Saudi collaboration.”

In a statement Wednesday, Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, said, “The Post is extremely concerned about Jamal. We have reached out to anyone we think might be able to help locate him and assure his safety, including U.S., Turkish and Saudi officials.”

The disappearance has stunned some of the Saudi government’s stalwart defenders and highlighted the country’s increasingly aggressive pursuit of its critics under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed. The Saudi authorities have arrested hundreds of people over the past year, often on murky charges, including women’s rights advocates, dissidents and popular clerics, according to human rights groups. 

When Khashoggi entered the consulate on Tuesday afternoon, he left his phone with his fiancee, along with instructions that she should call an adviser to President Erdogan if he did not return, she said. The fiancee, a Turkish citizen, has asked journalists not to publish her name.  

She called the police hours later, after the consulate had closed and he had not emerged. Khashoggi’s friends said that police officers had reviewed footage from cameras around the area and told them there was no sign that Khashoggi had left the embassy.  

On Wednesday, the fiancee, her sister and other friends stood vigil around the consulate in a quiet, residential neighborhood of Istanbul. Workers from a nearby law office passed by, glancing at the cameras. “Is he still inside?” one asked. As her friends spoke to reporters, the fiancee sometimes sat by herself, on a curb.  

“We were going to marry this week,” she said. Khashoggi fretted about going into the consulate but had weighed the risks, she added.  

“Of course he was worried. How comfortable can one be if he is not liked by his country?” she said. 

Khashoggi’s apparent detention threatens to become a flash point in relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The two countries maintain cordial relations but are on opposing sides of a regional dispute pitting Qatar against a bloc of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. Turkey has strongly supported Qatar in the feud.

Khashoggi, who had been close to Saudi Arabia’s ruling circles for decades, has written extensively about Mohammed’s policies, criticizing the arrests of activists and questioning Saudi Arabia’s involvement in a war in neighboring Yemen. He has lived in ­self-imposed exile in the United States since last year, saying he feared arrest if he remained in Saudi Arabia. 

“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice,” he wrote in a column last year. “To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison.”

Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul and Carol Morello and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.   

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