ANKARA/WASHINGTON • Saudi Arabia's King Salman yesterday ordered an internal probe into the unexplained disappearance of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as a joint Turkish-Saudi team was set to search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was last seen on Oct 2.
US President Donald Trump said he had spoken with King Salman about Mr Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom's policies, and that he was sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet the King immediately.
Mr Trump also said King Salman denied "any knowledge of whatever may have happened" to Mr Khashoggi, and told him the Saudis were working closely with Turkey on the case.
Mr Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, vanished after entering the consulate to get marriage documents.
Turkish sources have said they believe he was killed inside the building and his body removed, allegations that Riyadh dismisses as baseless.
"It sounded to me like maybe there could have been rogue killers. Who knows?" Mr Trump told reporters at the White House. He offered no evidence for his statement.
The case has provoked an international outcry, with Mr Trump threatening "severe punishment" if it turns out Mr Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, and European allies urging "a credible investigation" and accountability for those responsible.
A Turkish diplomatic source said investigators were due to inspect the consulate yesterday afternoon local time, after delays last week when Turkey accepted a Saudi proposal to work together to find out what happened to Mr Khashoggi.
"The King has ordered the public prosecutor to open an internal investigation into the Khashoggi matter based on the info from the joint team in Istanbul," a Saudi official, not authorised to speak publicly, told Reuters.
Asked when the public prosecutor could make an announcement about the investigation, the official said: "He was instructed to work quickly."
Britain expects Riyadh to provide "a complete and detailed response" to questions over Mr Khashoggi's disappearance, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said yesterday.
Saudi Arabia has responded to Western statements by saying it would retaliate against any pressure or economic sanctions "with greater action", and Arab allies rallied to support it, setting up a potential showdown between the world's top oil exporter and its Western allies.
King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on Sunday evening and stressed the importance of the two countries creating a joint group as part of the probe.