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DAY BY DAY

The full timeline of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and the morphing Saudi response

By Natasha Frost

This story was updated on Oct. 20, at 10am EDT.

Just over two weeks ago, Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished after going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His disappearance has now evolved into a full-blown international crisis. Throughout it all, the Saudi government’s official line keeps shifting as the world waits for answers.

Sept. 28: Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who moved to the United States last year, visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect a document that he needed in order to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. When he was told he would need to return, he later arranged to come back on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 2, after spending the weekend in London.

Oct. 2: Cengiz waited near the consulate with Khashoggi’s two cellphones while he went inside to retrieve the documents at 1:14 pm. He had instructed her to get help if he did not reappear. After a couple of hours, when he had still not returned from what should have been a routine visit, Cengiz rang the police. According to later media reports, Turkish staff at the consulate had been told to stay home on the day of his disappearance.

In the early hours of that morning, Turkish news outlet Sabah reported, a private charter plane carrying nine Saudi officials and intelligence officers had arrived in Istanbul from Riyadh. Around 4 pm, six vehicles left the consulate carrying Saudi officials and intelligence officers. Two additional vehicles went from the consulate to the Saudi consul’s residence and remained there for the next four hours.

Oct. 3: On what should have been his wedding day, Khashoggi was still missing. After speaking to Cengiz and an unnamed friend, Reuters reported his disappearance. Turkish and Saudi authorities, including the Istanbul consulate and the Saudi embassy in Washington, did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while a US State official confirmed that they had seen the reports and were seeking further information.

As questions began to circulate, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg the Saudis were keen to know where he was, and that they would cooperate fully with any investigations. “We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises,” he said. “The premises are sovereign territory, but we will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do. If they ask for that, of course, we will allow them. We have nothing to hide.”

Oct. 4Turkish sources reported that the country’s foreign ministry had summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to clarify where Khashoggi had gone. The ambassador allegedly told Turkish officials he had no information about Khashoggi’s whereabouts.

The Saudi government gave its first official statement on Khashoggi’s disappearance, via its official news agency. The consulate would be following up on media reports about the journalist’s unknown whereabouts “after he left the building of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,” the statement said, before confirming that the country would carry out further procedures and coordinate with local authorities to find out where Khashoggi had gone after leaving the building.

Foreign media outlets later reported that Saudi officials had said he had left the building via a back entrance.

Oct. 7: A new statement from Saudi officials “dismissed” reports from Reuters that Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate. “The official strongly denounced these baseless allegations, and expressed his doubt that they came from Turkish officials that are informed of the investigation or are authorized to comment on the issue.”

The statement, which was alleged to come from an unnamed Saudi consulate employee, claimed that “a security delegation of Saudi investigators arrived in Istanbul Saturday based upon a request by the Saudi government,” before concluding: “The source stressed that the Kingdom holds the safety and wellbeing of its citizens wherever they are, and that relevant authorities in the Kingdom are diligently following up on this matter to uncover the complete facts.”

Oct. 8: Axios reporter Jonathan Swan received an unsolicited WhatsApp message from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, denying any allegations about Saudi governmental involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance. ”I assure you that the reports that suggest that Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the Consulate in Istanbul or that the Kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless,” he said. Swan thanked him and asked whether there was footage of Khashoggi leaving the consulate. In an Oct. 12 post, he wrote: “I’m still waiting for a reply.”

On the same day, unnamed Turkish officials told both Reuters and the Washington Post that the journalist had been killed inside the consulate, but provided no evidence or further details.

Oct. 9: At a press conference in Budapest, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked Saudi Arabia for CCTV evidence that, as they claimed, Khashoggi had left the consulate. ”He entered the general consulate himself and if he has entered by himself and if he did not exit it, of course this should be proven by the general consulate,” he said. Erdogan also announced that an investigation was underway by the Justice Ministry and the Turkish chief prosecutor in Istanbul, while airport entrances and exits were being investigated. “At the moment there are certain people who arrived from Saudi Arabia. And our chief investigator is investigating everything in this matter.”

An opinion piece by Cengiz also requested the release of the video footage: “I also urge Saudi Arabia, especially King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to show the same level of sensitivity and release CCTV footage from the consulate.”

Later reports claimed that the Turkish police investigation was now centered on a black Mercedes van believed to have been used to abduct Khashoggi, visible in video footage of a number of cars coming to the consulate and leaving around the time Khashoggi is believed to have been inside.

Oct. 10: After security camera footage from the consulate failed to materialize, Turkish authorities claimed that it had been removed from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and perhaps taken overseas aboard one of the two corporate jets used to fly 15 Saudi officials from Riyadh to Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance. In a noted shift from Erdogan’s earlier call for an explanation, his advisor Yasin Aktay claimed “the Saudi state is not blamed here.”

Oct. 11: Speaking to reporters at the White House, US president Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia would redirect its spending elsewhere if he were to cut off arms sales over Khashoggi’s disappearance, as many had urged him to do. He stressed that the journalist had not been an American citizen and that the events had taken place in Turkey, but added: ”We don’t like it.” In an appearance on Fox & Friends earlier that morning, Trump said he had spoken to Saudi officials: ”We’re probably getting closer than you might think, but I have to find out what happened.”

Oct. 12: Amid mounting speculation that Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate, Saudi officials released two statements.

The Minister of the Interior, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, denounced “false accusations circulated in some media on the Saudi government and people against the background of the disappearance of the Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi.” Claims that the journalist had been killed were, he said, “lies and baseless allegations against the government of the Kingdom, which is committed to its principles, rules and traditions and is in compliance with international laws and conventions.”

A second statement, from an unnamed official source, announced a bilateral investigation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia into Khashoggi’s disappearance. It did not acknowledge requests for CCTV footage or earlier claims that Khashoggi had left the consulate.

Oct. 14: With pressure from the international community growing, another official Saudi statement spoke out against “threats and attempts to undermine it,” citing economic sanctions, “political pressure” and the repeating of “false accusations that … undermined the Kingdom.” Pointing to the country’s “vital role in the global economy,” the statement adopted a threatening tone: “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.”

Oct. 15: Countries such as Sudan, Kuwait and Comoros offered Saudi Arabia their official backing against what the Saudi government described as “unlawful campaigns” and attempts to “exploit” Khashoggi’s disappearance. 

An Al-Jazeera video appears to show a cleaning crew armed with supplies descending on the consulate.

Oct. 16: CNN reported that a Turkish official had anonymously informed the broadcaster that Khashoggi’s body was cut into pieces after he was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, echoing claims made in the New York Times. The night before, Turkish officials had searched the consulate for nine hours. It had recently received a fresh coat of paint “everywhere” inside the building.

In an interview with the AP, Trump raised the notion of “rogue killers” being responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance and compared the response to allegations of sexual assault made against US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh. “I think we have to find out what happened first,” he said. “You know, here we go again with ‘you’re guilty until proven innocent.’ I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way. So I was unconcerned.” He reiterated that the official Saudi line was that they had no information about Khashoggi’s whereabouts.

Oct. 17: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Turkey, where he told reporters that he and Trump had spoken to the crown prince, and that more information was forthcoming. “He made clear that the Saudis had cooperated with the investigation that the Turks are engaged in.” Until the investigation had concluded, he said, they had no further comment to make. “We’re going to give them the space to complete their investigations of this incident, and when they issue their reports, we’ll form our judgment about thoroughness, depth, and the decisions they make about accountability connected to that.”

Turkish plans to search the Saudi consul’s residence fell through after “the Saudis claimed that the consul’s family was inside,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters. “We have said before that Saudi Arabia must cooperate with us in every aspect without delay.”

After speaking with three unnamed Turkish sources, CNN reported that Khashoggi had died after being interrogated in a mission organized by a high-ranking Saudi intelligence officer. A New York Times article described how Khashoggi’s killers had “severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered him, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official on Wednesday.” He is alleged to have died within minutes.

The Saudi government released another statement following Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al Al-Sheikh’s address at the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva. The former Saudi Minster of Justice criticized what he described as “misleading campaigns” against the country.

Oct. 19: Saudi Arabia backtracked on its previous denials that Khashoggi had died inside the consulate, announcing through state media that the 59-year-old had in fact been killed in a “fight” there. Eighteen Saudi citizens are reportedly under investigation for his death, and deputy chief of Saudi intelligence Ahmed el-Asiri and royal court advisor Abdullah al-Qahtani have been fired.