ANKARA • Top Turkish security officials have concluded that Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official has said.
The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.
"It is like Pulp Fiction," the official said, referring to the Hollywood movie.
Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have denied the allegations, insisting that Mr Khashoggi left the consulate freely shortly after he arrived.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded the Saudis provide evidence proving their claim.
It remains unclear how the Turkish government determined that Mr Khashoggi had been killed, but the conclusion that the Saudi royal court had ordered the assassination could increase pressure on both sides of the dispute.
It would make it more difficult for the two governments to come up with a face-saving story blaming Mr Khashoggi's disappearance on a third party, rogue elements of the Saudi security forces, or an accident during an interrogation that went wrong. Turkish officials have left things murky enough - speaking on condition of anonymity and refusing to publicly disclose their evidence - that such possibilities cannot be ruled out.
The security establishment concluded that Mr Khashoggi's killing was directed from the top because only the most senior Saudi leaders could order an operation of such scale and complexity, the official who alleged he was slain said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Fifteen Saudi agents arrived on two charter flights last Tuesday, the day Mr Khashoggi disappeared, the official said. All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official added. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body.
Separately, another person briefed on the matter said last Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove it had occurred.
But the Daily Sabah newspaper, a publication with close ties to Mr Erdogan's government, reported on Tuesday that unnamed officials had said the police were examining the possibility that Mr Khashoggi had been abducted and not killed, possibly with the help of another country's intelligence officers.
The newspaper said two private Gulfstream IV planes belonging to Sky Prime Aviation, a charter service that has often worked with the Saudi government, took off from Riyadh on Oct 2 carrying intelligence agents or government officials.
One plane landed at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport that day with nine passengers on board. They checked into two hotels near the consulate and booked rooms for three nights. But they left later that day at 10.46pm in the same jet, stopping in Dubai on the way back to Riyadh.
A second plane landed in Istanbul at 5.15pm that same day with six passengers. All went directly to the consulate and quickly returned to the airport. Their plane took off at 6.20pm, barely an hour after it had arrived, stopping in Cairo as it returned to Riyadh.
Security camera footage showed Mr Khashoggi entering the consulate shortly after 1pm that day. His fiancee Hatice Cengiz was waiting outside and she said that he never emerged.
Daily Sabah reported that 21/2 hours after he entered the facility, six vehicles with diplomatic licence plates pulled out, carrying 15 Saudi officials and intelligence officers.
Two other vehicles, including a black Mercedes Vito van with darkened windows, travelled from the consulate to the consul's residence 182m away.
Turkish employees of the residence had unexpectedly been told not to report for work that day and police investigators suspected Mr Khashoggi was in the van, reported Daily Sabah, without naming its sources.