ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish official said Friday that investigators are looking into the possibility that missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s remains may have been taken to a forest outside Istanbul or to another city after his suspected killing at the consulate earlier this month. Ankara’s top diplomat, meanwhile, denied sharing any audio from the Saudi Consulate with U.S. officials.
The official told The Associated Press that police have established that two vehicles belonging to the consulate left the building on Oct. 2 — the day Khashoggi had walked into the consulate and vanished.
One of the vehicles traveled to the nearby Belgrade Forest while the other traveled to the city of Yalova, across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the secrecy of the ongoing investigation.
It was not immediately clear if police had already searched the areas.
Turkish prosecutors meanwhile, questioned 15 Turkish employees of the consulate, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. They include the consul’s driver, technicians, accountants and telephone operators, according to the report. Earlier, an AP journalist witnessed a group of people leaving the building, getting into a van belonging to the Saudi mission and being driven away.
Turkish reports say Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered inside the consulate by members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have dismissed those reports as baseless but have yet to explain what happened to Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post who wrote critically of Prince Mohammed’s rise to power.
President Donald Trump, who first came out hard on the Saudis over the disappearance but had since backed off, said Thursday that it “certainly looks” as though Khashoggi is dead, and that the consequences for the Saudis “will have to be very severe” if they are found to have killed him.
Saudi Arabia has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the AP over recent days over Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak on Wednesday reported that an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying suggests a Saudi team accosted him after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week, told reporters on a plane to Mexico that he’s neither seen nor heard such a recording. Citing an anonymous senior Turkish official, ABC News reported on Thursday that Pompeo heard the alleged recording during meetings in Turkey and received a transcript of it.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denied sharing any audio recordings with U.S. officials.
“It is out of the question for Turkey to give Pompeo or any other U.S. official any audio recording,” Cavusoglu told reporters during a visit to Tirana, Albania. “It is out of the question for us to share with any country this or that information.”
“Of course, as a result of the investigation so far, Turkey does have some information and evidence,” he said. “We will share them with the world when they become fully clear because the whole world, understandably, wants to know what happened to Khashoggi and how it happened.”
Also Friday, Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper printed more surveillance camera photographs showing members of a Saudi team that was allegedly brought in to Turkey to dispose of Khashoggi.
A leaked surveillance photo published by the same paper on Thursday showed that a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage during several trips abroad had walked into the Saudi consulate, just before the writer disappeared there on Oct. 2.
The man, identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, has been photographed in the background of Prince Mohammed’s trips to the United States, France and Spain this year.
This week, Turkish crime scene investigators searched the Saudi consul general’s residence in Istanbul and carried out a second search of the consulate itself. Authorities have not said specifically what they found, although technicians carried out bags and boxes from the consul general’s home. He left Turkey on Tuesday.
In related developments, senior government officials from the United States, France, Britain and the Netherlands withdrew from an investment conference in Saudi Arabia amid questions over the kingdom’s involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The kingdom had hoped to use the event, due to be held in Riyadh on Oct. 23-25, to boost its global image. Several top business executives have also cancelled their plans to attend, as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.
On Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Prime Minister Imran Khan would travel to Saudi Arabia next week to attend the conference. It said Khan would also meet King Salman.
Khan has been trying to secure bailout loans from IMF to avoid an economic meltdown and is also seeking loans from Riyadh.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.