An everyday object could help solve the mysterious disappearance of a journalist in Turkey.
Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist and newspaper editor, had lived in exile in Washington for more than a year, writing a column for the Washington Post in which he regularly criticised his country’s crackdown on dissent, its war in Yemen and sanctions imposed on Qatar.
He said he could write freely in the United States in a way that was impossible at home, according to friends and colleagues, but he was increasingly worried that Riyadh could hurt him or his family.
In Turkey he had friends in high places and thought he would be safe there. But on October 2 he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for a brief appointment. He never came out.
Two senior Turkish officials have revealed an accessory could provide important clues to Khashoggi’s fate – the black Apple watch he was wearing when he entered the consulate, which was connected to a mobile phone he left outside, they said.
Investigators are focusing on 15 Saudi men who entered the consulate around the same time as Khashoggi and left a short time later. These men had arrived hours earlier from Riyadh, most of them by private plane, Turkish officials said.
By the end of the day, they were on their way back to the kingdom.
Turkish newspaper Sabah said on Wednesday it had identified the 15 as members of a Saudi intelligence team. They included a forensic expert. A Turkish official did not dispute the report.
Investigators are also trying to trace a vehicle that left the Saudi consulate at the same time as two cars destined for the airport, one of the officials said. This vehicle didn’t turn toward the airport, but set off in the opposite direction.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, 59, was killed inside the consulate.
Saudi Arabia has strongly rejected the accusation.The kingdom’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, said reports suggesting Khashoggi went missing in the Istanbul consulate or that Saudi Arabia had killed him “are absolutely false and baseless” and a product of “malicious leaks and grim rumours.”
Friends warned journalist not to go to consulate
Khashoggi was planning to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who is 23 years his junior.
They were to be married in Istanbul and because he was divorced, he was required to provide proof that he did not have a wife.
He asked if he could get the document from the Saudi embassy in Washington, a friend in Europe told the newspaper, but was told the consulate in Turkey was better placed to help.
Cengiz said he wouldn’t have applied for the document in Istanbul if he could have avoid it. A Saudi official said it was “not accurate” that Khashoggi was told to go to Istanbul.
Friends said they warned him against getting the document in Istanbul for fear Saudis might arrest him if he set foot in the consulate.
He visited the consulate on September 28 while his fiancee waited outside. The first meeting went smoothly and he said he was treated politely and was told the paperwork would take time to prepare.
Khashoggi exchanged phone numbers with a consulate official so he could call and check on progress, three friends said.
The official said the document would be ready the following week. Reuters has not been able to locate the official or confirm his role at the consulate. The consul declined to comment on who Khashoggi spoke to.
Khashoggi returned to the consulate on October 2 to get the paperwork and before he went into the building he handed his fiancee his two mobile phones, the fiancee told Reuters.
He left instructions that she should call Erdogan aide and close friend Yasin Aktay if he didn’t reappear. He was wearing his Apple Watch, connected to one of the phones, when he entered the building.
How watch could solve the mystery
A senior Turkish government official and a senior security official said the two inter-connected devices are at the heart of the investigation into the journalist’s disappearance.
“We determined that it was on him when he walked into the consulate,” the security official said.
Investigators are trying to determine what information the watch transmitted.
“Intelligence services, the prosecutor’s office and a technology team are working on this. Turkey does not have the watch so we are trying to do it through connected devices,” he said.
Tech experts say an Apple Watch can provide data such as location and heart rate. But what investigators can find out depends on the model of the watch, whether it was connected to the internet, and whether it is near enough an iPhone to synchronise.