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Editorials Globe editorial: Saudi Arabia must explain the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi

Last Tuesday, Oct. 2, a journalist and prominent critic of the Saudi Arabian government said goodbye to his fiancée outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and went inside to retrieve a document needed for their marriage.

Jamal Khashoggi has not been seen since. Turkish officials claim he was murdered by Saudi agents inside the consulate, and that his body was dismembered and removed from the building. The best-case alternative scenario is that Mr. Khashoggi was kidnapped and flown back to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials say the Turkish claims are baseless and that Mr. Khashoggi came and went from the consulate the same day unhindered. But this is not supported by any evidence.

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On the contrary, Turkish police and intelligence sources have steadily leaked information about unexplained Saudi government activity in Istanbul on Oct. 2. That includes the arrival and quick departure of two private jets carrying 15 Saudi diplomats and intelligence officers. One of the jets arrived at 5:15 p.m. and left again at 6:20; its passengers went straight to the consulate and then back to the airport, according to Turkish sources.

Turkish officials also tracked a van with darkened windows that went from the consulate to the consul’s nearby residence and entered the garage.

As well, Turkey has produced a security-camera image of Mr. Khashoggi entering the consulate. So far, there is no image available of him leaving under his own power, although police say there are cameras at every entrance and exit.

The Turkish government says the onus is on Saudi Arabia to prove its claim that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate alive and well. We agree. Even though the autocratic government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no friend to journalists or dissenters, and its claim of murder can’t be independently proved, Riyadh must respond convincingly.

That’s because the one bit of indisputable evidence in this mystery is that Mr. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate. The only thing that could exonerate Saudi Arabia completely would be his reappearance, in good health and with an explanation for his disappearance. With every day that goes by, that outcome seems less likely.

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