Updated at 1:43 p.m. ET
Turkey is intensifying its investigation into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkish state media says authorities questioned 15 Turkish employees of Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, where he was last seen on Oct. 2, and multiple media outlets say Turkish investigators were searching specific sites near the city for his remains.
The fate of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and a critic of Saudi policy, remains unclear more than two weeks after he vanished. The Turkish government has said it suspects he was murdered at the consulate.
President Trump says he believes Khashoggi is dead, telling The New York Times on Thursday that his judgment is based on “intelligence coming from every side.”
The Associated Press, citing an unnamed Turkish official, reported Friday that investigators were looking into whether “the remains of … Khashoggi may have been taken to a forest in the outskirts of Istanbul or to another city.” The wire service added that according to the same official, “two vehicles belonging to the consulate left the building” the day the journalist disappeared.
Reuters reports that two Turkish officials say police were searching for remains in a “forest on the outskirts of Istanbul and a city near the Sea of Marmara.”
The Times has reported that audio evidence from senior Turkish government officials suggests Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered by Saudi agents.
On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied sharing any audio recordings with the U.S., after a report from ABC claimed that Turkish officials played an audio recording to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The State Department also denied the report. Earlier this week, Trump said the U.S. had requested access to any audio or video evidence from Turkey’s investigation.
Cavusoglu vowed to share Turkey’s investigation findings “transparently,” according to state news agency Anadolu. Turkish authorities searched the Saudi consulate earlier this week, the news agency said.
Anadolu reported that Turkish security officials say “on the same day of Khashoggi’s disappearance, 15 other Saudis, including several officials, arrived in Istanbul on two planes and visited the consulate while Khashoggi was still inside.” It added: “All of the identified officials have since left Turkey.”
One suspect, a senior intelligence official, is known to be a “frequent companion of [Saudi] Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” according to the Times.
President Trump said Thursday that if Saudi Arabia is responsible, the consequences will be “very severe,” according to the Times.
Vice President Pence, speaking with reporters Thursday in Colorado, said, “If what has been alleged occurred, if an innocent person lost their life at the hands of violence, that’s to be condemned.”
“If a journalist in particular lost their life at the hands of violence, that’s an affront to the free and independent press around the world,” Pence continued. “And there will be consequences.”
Their statements mark a shift in tone from comments Trump made earlier this week. On Monday, the president said, “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers.”
The Saudi government has repeatedly denied murdering Khashoggi. The Times reported Thursday that Saudi rulers are weighing a plan to acknowledge the journalist’s death during an interrogation that went awry and to place the blame on a top intelligence official.
On Thursday, Trump approved Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s decision not to attend the kingdom’s Future Investment Initiative summit. After a string of cancellations from high profile U.S. companies, Mnuchin’s strikes the hardest blow.
Earlier this week, Pompeo held talks with both Saudi and Turkish officials to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Pompeo emphasized the importance of a “thorough, transparent, and timely investigation that provides answers,” the State Department said in a statement Tuesday.
In another statement, he said Saudi officials “strongly denied any knowledge” of what happened in the consulate in Istanbul.