Saudi intelligence officer who served at the kingdom’s embassy in London was among an alleged “hit squad” of spies and soldiers who flew into Istanbul the day of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, according to dissidents.
Pro-government Turkish media published the names and photographs of 15 Saudi men who allegedly made a mysterious one-day trip to Istanbul on private jets the day Mr Khashoggi vanished at the Saudi consulate.
One member of the squad appears to be Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer who was based in London in 2007. “I recognised his photograph immediately,” said Ghanim al-Dosari, a Saudi satirist living in exile in London, who knew Mr Mutreb socially. “It is crazy if he was part of a murder team.”
Social media sleuths identified another man from the squad as a senior crimes scene investigator in Saudi Arabia. A third appeared to be a special forces soldier who worked as a bodyguard to Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
The apparent outing of members of the Saudi security services will add to growing international pressure on the kingdom, which faces accusations from Turkey of having murdered and dismembered Mr Khashoggi when he went to the consulate on October 2.
Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied any involvement in his disappearance and insists that Mr Khashoggi left the consulate safely after filing paperwork ahead of his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee.
The international implications of Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance deepened after the Washington Post reported that US intelligence was aware the Saudi government was planning to kidnap the journalist.
The newspaper, where Mr Khashoggi wrote columns critical of the Saudi government, said US intelligence had intercepted communications showing Saudi officials were trying to lure the journalist back to his homeland so they could arrest him.
If confirmed, the US intercepts would confirm that the Saudi government had long sought to silence Mr Khashoggi. It also raises questions over whether the US gave the journalist any warning that he might be in danger from his own government.
Turan Kislakci, a close friend of Mr Khashoggi, said he did not believe the Americans gave any warning. “One of us would have known if he had a warning like that,” he said. “The US bears some responsibility if they knew there was a plot against his life and they didn’t warn him.”
In an article in the Washingon Post, Hatice Cengiz, Mr Khashoggi’s fiance, pleaded with Donald and Melania Trump to “help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance”. “I don’t know how I can keep living if he was abducted or killed in Turkey,” she said.
Turkish officials are reportedly focused on an Apple Watch Mr Khashoggi was wearing, in the hope that the smart device might have information that could help determine what happened to him.
The pro-government newspaper Sabah, owned by the Turkish finance minister who is also the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published the names of the 15 Saudis, accompanied by still images from CCTV.
The detailed information, including their years of birth and what time they passed through Turkish passport control, appeared to have been leaked directly to the newspaper by Turkish intelligence.
A UK government list of foreign diplomats in London from 2007 also lists a Maher Mutreb as first secretary at the embassy, a title often used by intelligence officials.
Another man on the list, Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, is reported to be a lieutenant-colonel and head of the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics. An expert on forensic evidence, he is known to have trained a large number of police officers in crime scene investigation.
The list published in Sabah also includes the name Mohammad Saad al-Zahrani. A photograph published online shows a Saudi royal guard standing beside Crown Prince Mohammed. His nametag, clearly visible on his black uniform, reads Mohammad Saad al-Zahrani.
None of the men could be reached for comment. Saudi Arabia gave no official response to the allegation that members of its security services were on the planes.