ISTANBUL — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, said in an interview published by Bloomberg on Friday that Turkish authorities were welcome to search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who visited the mission earlier this week and has not been heard from since.
The interview was conducted Wednesday night, after Turkish officials said they believed Khashoggi was still inside the consulate. But Mohammed said that Khashoggi, who has criticized the crown prince in his writings, had “entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I’m not sure.”
“We will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do,” he added, referring to the Turkish authorities, according to a transcript of the interview. “We have nothing to hide.”
Khashoggi’s disappearance has drawn attention to Mohammed’s aggressive pursuit of his critics and threatened to deepen a rift between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, regional powers that have competed for influence in the Middle East.
More than three days after Khashoggi entered the consulate, no clear answers have emerged— even though the mission is ringed by surveillance cameras that presumably could provide some.
Khashoggi, who writes for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, visited the consulate Tuesday to obtain documents related to his upcoming wedding, according to his fiancee and friends.
A Turkish government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Mohammed’s offer. On Thursday, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador in Ankara, the Turkish capital, and asked him to clarify the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance, according to Turkish media reports.
Trump administration officials say they have requested information from the Saudi government on Khashoggi’s whereabouts and expressed their concern about his possible detention.
“They have not said much,” a U.S. official said Friday, referring to the Saudi government. “They’re sticking with the party line, saying he’s not at the consulate, that they’re coordinating with the Turks. We believe something is up and they won’t tell us,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private diplomatic conversations.
As attention on Khashoggi’s case intensified Friday, with newspaper editorials and U.S. senators calling for his release, Saud Kabli, the communications director for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, offered his government’s most vigorous denial yet that it was responsible for the disappearance. “Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance is a matter of grave concern to us all,” he wrote on Twitter. “We categorically reject any insinuations of holding @jkhashoggi.”
Khashoggi’s supporters held a news conference in front of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Friday, demanding answers. “We call on the Saudi authorities to release Jamal, or to tell us, where is he?” Hamza Zawba, an Egyptian journalist, said as colleagues held Khashoggi’s portrait aloft behind him.
Turan Kislakci, one of Khashoggi’s friends, said it is suspected that he was moved from the consulate and that the Saudi and Turkish governments were negotiating a face-saving way for the Saudis to release him. Kislakci added that he was hopeful the Saudis would find a way. “They know how to play these games,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has faced growing scrutiny for its targeting of dissidents and even mild critics. Waves of arrests over the past year have swept up religious figures, business executives and, most recently, Saudi Arabia’s most active women’s rights advocates. The women have been accused by the authorities of illegal contacts with foreign powers, though no formal charges against the women have been made public.
In his Bloomberg interview, Mohammed acknowledged the scale of the arrest campaign, saying that about 1,500 people had been detained over the past three years, but he portrayed the suspects as national security threats rather than political opponents.
“Most of their cases have nothing to do with freedom of speech and most of them will return to their homes when the process is finished,” he said.
DeYoung reported from Washington.