By Vivian Nereim, Donna Abu-Nasr, Alaa Shahine and Riad Hamade
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Authorities in Turkey believe that a Saudi journalist who went missing after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul this week was killed there, a Turkish government source said.
The assessment came three days after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist critical of his rule, had left the building shortly after entering it and that he was ready to allow Turkey to search the consulate.
“The premises are sovereign territory, but we will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do,” Mohammed said in an interview Wednesday at a royal palace in Riyadh. “We have nothing to hide.”
Khashoggi’s murder is believed to have been premeditated, Reuters and the Washington Post reported.
Khashoggi, who’s been living in self-imposed exile for the past year, has been missing since Tuesday. His fiancee and friends said they fear he was detained or kidnapped for his criticism of the government.
Speculation that Khashoggi was detained focused new attention on what critics say is a broad crackdown on dissent under Mohammed that has coincided with his attempts to loosen social restrictions and create a more dynamic economy less reliant on oil. It also risks worsening relations between the kingdom and Turkey, already strained over Ankara’s support of political Islam. Turkey summoned the Saudi ambassador to explain the journalist’s disappearance.
Mohammed, the 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, used the interview to defend actions that have tarnished his reputation abroad as a man trying to overhaul one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. He said the arrests of clerics, women activists and some businessmen over the past year were a small price to pay for peacefully eradicating extremism in the world’s top oil exporter.
The prince said authorities have detained about 1,500 people over the past three years on national security grounds rather than as part of a clampdown on dissent. The number, he said, pales in comparison with Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has locked up tens of thousands since a failed coup against him in 2016.
“I didn’t call myself a reformer of Saudi Arabia,” Prince Mohammed said when questioned about criticism of the arrests. “I am the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and I am trying to do the best that I can do through my position.”
Khashoggi said last year that he moved to the United States because of concerns that he would be arrested in Saudi Arabia or prevented from traveling abroad.
“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice,” he wrote in the Washington Post, for which he was a regular contributor. “To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot.”
On Wednesday, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, said Turkey believed Khashoggi was still inside the consulate. “We will continue following the matter closely. There is an international law, Turkish law and humanitarian aspect in this issue,” he said.
(Abu-Nasr reported from Beirut. Taylan Bilgic and Nayla Razzouk contributed to this report.)