Turkey's president said he is personally involved in the case of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and is holding out hope for him, even though another official said the Washington Post columnist was killed inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.
"As president, I am pursuing," Recep Erdogan said Sunday in televised comments in Ankara. "We're waiting for the prosecutor's statement. My expectation is still well-meant. I hope we won't encounter an undesirable situation."
The political fallout over Khashoggi may further strain ties between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi Arabia opposes Turkey's support of political Islam, while Ankara has sided with Qatar in a major diplomatic dispute with a Saudi-led coalition.
Khashoggi's disappearance comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump has heaped particular pressure on Saudi Arabia to do more to ease oil prices. If Khashoggi was murdered as alleged by the Turkish official, it may cause additional tensions with the U.S. Senate.
"I pray Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is alive," Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, tweeted Sunday. "But if this deeply disturbing news report is confirmed, the United States & the civilized world must respond strongly, and I will review all options in Senate."
Khashoggi, who had been living in self-imposed exile for the past year, disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the consulate to obtain a document. His fiancee and friends initially said they feared he had been detained or kidnapped for his criticism of the Saudi government.
Speaking to Bloomberg earlier Sunday, a Turkish government official said Khashoggi was believed to have been killed inside the building. The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. A Saudi official denied the claim.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Bloomberg in an interview on Wednesday that Khashoggi had left the building shortly after entering it, and that he was ready to allow Turkey to search the consulate. The 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne said he was unaware of Khashoggi's whereabouts.
Khashoggi's alleged murder is believed to have been premeditated and carried out by a team of 15 people flown in from the kingdom, the Turkish official said, without providing evidence. The details were also reported by Reuters and The Washington Post.
An official at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul "strongly denounced these baseless allegations," according to an emailed statement. A Saudi delegation has been sent to Turkey to assist "in the investigations regarding the disappearance of the Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi," according to the statement.
Speculation that Khashoggi was detained focused new attention on what critics say is a broad crackdown on dissent under Prince Mohammed that has coincided with his attempts to loosen social restrictions and create a more dynamic economy less reliant on oil. The government has arrested dozens of clerics, academics, writers, businessmen and journalists from across Saudi society.
"The Gulf Kingdom routinely uses draconian laws to crack down on peaceful dissent at home, and has even arrested dissidents abroad in the past," human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement. "But the enforced disappearance - and now reported assassination - of one of its citizens who had sought asylum abroad should set alarm bells ringing."
Prince Mohammed used the interview with Bloomberg to defend actions that have tarnished his reputation 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.
Ali Shihabi, head of the Arabia Foundation, a pro-Saudi think tank in the U.S., said Erdogan's ruling AKP party should not be in charge of any investigation into Khashoggi's fate.
"If Jamal is still missing or God forbid dead, then the judgment should be left to an independent investigation carried out by a credible international party," he said on Twitter. "The Turks are not a neutral party. "