ISTANBUL, Turkey - In a bid to uncover the mysterious disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi - the 59-year-old Saudi journalist who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month but never returned - Turkey has now expanded its investigation.
Nearly a week after alleging that Khashoggi was interrogated, beaten, tortured and murdered within the Saudi consulate building, for the first time on Monday, Turkish investigators searched the building that Khashoggi entered on October 2.
But just as Turkey announced that it was widening its probe, the U.S. announced a visit to Saudi by the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
On Monday, Turkish forensic police entered the consulate building an hour after a group of Saudi officials entered the premises.
Turkish investigators carried out an examination of the building for about nine hours, only leaving the building in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
According to local reports, investigators took some samples from the building, including samples of the soil from the consulate garden and a metal gate.
While investigators did not categorically reveal what they found inside the building, a report in The Associated Press quoted an anonymous Turkish official as saying that police found "certain evidence" showing Khashoggi was killed there.
Later, speaking to reporters in parliament, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke about the investigation and said, "The investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over."
Erdogan also raised the possibility that parts of the consulate had been repainted since Khashoggi disappeared.
He added, "My hope is that we can reach conclusions that will give us a reasonable opinion as soon as possible, because the investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over."
Meanwhile, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that investigators were widening their search to include the Saudi consul's Istanbul residence and consulate vehicles.
Cavusoglu reportedly pointed out that he had received no "confession" from the Saudis.
Later in the day, Turkish media reports pointed out that hours before his official residence was due to be searched, the Saudi Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi left Turkey on a commercial flight bound for Saudi Arabia.
Separately, a Turkish source quoted in a Reuters report also stated that Turkish authorities have an audio recording indicating that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate.
A Turkish security source was also quoted as saying in the report that during the investigation within the consulate overnight, investigators had obtained “strong evidence” but no conclusive proof that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate.
The source added, “However, there are some findings and they are being worked on."
Defining the official line
On Tuesday, as the global media tried to learn more about the investigation being carried out in Istanbul, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began his meetings with Saudi leaders in Riyadh.
After the U.S. President Donald Trump held a telephonic conversation with Saudi's King Salman on Monday, he told the media that King Salman had denied "any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen.'"
Describing King Salman's denial as "very, very strong," Trump got himself into trouble after raising the possibility that "rogue killers" may have been involved.
However, Trump also announced that Pompeo would visit the Kingdom to discuss the case.
On Tuesday, as Pompeo arrived in Riyadh and was engaged in meetings with King Salman, the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Riyadh, shocking media reports emerged.
Unnamed sources quoted in the New York Times and CNN said that Saudi Arabia would acknowledge that Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong.
Sources were quoted as saying that Saudi officials would claim that the intention had been only to abduct him from Turkey.
This, the reports pointed out would explain Trump's "rogue killers" line.
In its report, CNN pointed out that Saudis may argue that the operation was conducted without clearance.
It said that Saudis will then insist that those responsible would be held accountable.
Further, the report in The New York Times said that Prince Mohammed had approved an interrogation or abduction of Khashoggi and the government would shield him by blaming an intelligence official.
However, after Pompeo concluded his meetings in Riyadh, the U.S. announced in an official statement that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had agreed that there must be a thorough investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman told reporters in Washington that Pompeo and Cown Prince Salman “agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also said that Pompeo thanked the king for his "commitment to a thorough, transparent investigation."
She added that the crown prince also agreed on the need for an investigation that "provides answers."
Further, media reports in the U.S. quoted a Trump administration official as saying that although Washington had a significant relationship with Riyadh “that doesn’t mean we’re in any way ignoring or downplaying this episode.”
The official added that those responsible must be held accountable.
Khashoggi goes missing
Jamal Khashoggi has been both a friend and foe, for the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia.
The 59-year-old Saudi journalist was once an adviser to senior Saudi officials and an important member of the royal court.
In 2017, Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia after a falling out with the new regime in Riyadh, that had set out on a mission to crush dissent at the time.
Championed by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crackdown on dissent led to frequent arrests of religious leaders, intellectuals, activists and even royals that are critical of his rule.
By then, Khashoggi had criticized some key Saudi policies and has even criticized both, King Salman and the Kingdom's young Crown Prince.
However, last year, his Saudi newspaper column was cancelled, following which he is believed to have been issued a warning to stop criticizing the crown prince's policies on Twitter.
Fearing retribution for his criticism of Riyadh, especially over the Yemen war and in view of the Kingdom's crackdown on dissent, Khashoggi decided to leave Saudi last year.
Since then, he had been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile and had been working as a contributor at the Washington Post.
On October 2, Khashoggi found himself at the center of a diplomatic firestorm, when he put his concerns of being trapped aside and entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Leaving his Turkish fiancé outside and handing her both his mobile phones, Khashoggi entered the building to get some documents for his planned marriage.
However, as hours passed by, his fiancée got increasingly worried, since the prominent journalist never emerged.
Hours turned into days and days turned into weeks - yet, there is no sign of the journalist.
International outrage grows
The incident has sparked international outrage but has also left the West boggled about dealing with the situation, which has, yet again, drawn focus on the kingdom’s human rights record.
Further, apart from Turkey, which has been pressuring Saudi Arabia from day one - other nations too have demanded a full explanation from the Kingdom on Khashoggi's fate.
Yet, Western nations, including the U.S. and the U.K. are in a dilemma since Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter.
Further, the authoritarian kingdom also spends lavishly on Western arms.
Saudi continues to also remain a military ally and an opponent of Iran.
While Saudi has faced criticism from Western leaders and rights groups over its human rights record, it recently drew harsh criticism over the alarming number of civilian casualties caused by its war planes in Yemen.
Meanwhile, as Western countries decide on the right approach, Khashoggi's case has led many international media organizations and business executives to pull out of an investment conference scheduled to be held in the kingdom next week.