Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered an operation targeting Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi regime feared to have been ‘taken’ after he never left the Saudi consulate in Turkey, The Washington Post reported.
U.S intelligence intercepted voices in which Saudi officials were heard discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi from the US state of Virginia, where he resides, back to Saudi Arabia where he would be detained, the newspapers stated.
It was not clear to the officials with knowledge of the intelligence whether the Saudis discussed harming Khashoggi as part of the plan to capture him, it said.
His friends told the Post that Khashoggi had been approached by Saudi officials with close ties to the crown prince over the past four months with offers to reconcile and return to the kingdom, including being given a prominent role in the government.
The writer was sceptical of the offers, however.
“He said: ‘Are you kidding? I don’t trust them one bit,'” said Khaled Saffuri, an Arab American political activist, recounting a conversation he had with Khashoggi in May.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul insisted Thursday that Jamal had left their premises before disappearing, Al-Jazeera reported.
In a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, “The consulate confirmed that it is carrying out follow-up procedures and coordination with the Turkish local authorities to uncover the circumstances of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after he left the consulate building,” it said without elaborating.
The statement arrived after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Wednesday night that authorities believed the journalist was still there.
“According to the information we have, this person who is a Saudi citizen is still at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,” Ibrahim Kalin said. “We don’t have information to the contrary.”
Khashoggi, who has been living in self-exile in the United States, entered the consulate’s premises at around 1pm in what seemed to be a routine visit to sort out paperwork, before disappearing, the Arabic-language Arab21 news website reported on Tuesday, quoting his fiance, AJ reported.
A columnist for the Washington Post, he has been severely critical of the current bid for reform of the Kingdom by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
His fiancee, requesting anonymity told the Post she accompanied him but waited outside and called the police when Khashoggi did not emerge after the consulate closed.
Turan Kislakci, a friend of Khashoggi’s who was also outside the consulate, told the newspaper, “I think 100 percent that he is inside.”