Where is Jamal? That’s what his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, wants to know. It’s what Turkey and the rest of the world want to know. Only Saudi Arabia has the answer.

Cengiz was the last person to see Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi alive before he walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. As he walked toward the entrance, she said she would wait for him outside, The Washington Post reported. “Fine, my darling,” he told her. Turkey says he never came out.

Worse, Turkish officials suspect he was murdered by a Saudi regime that claims to embrace reforms but cracks down on any glimmer of dissent. Has Saudi Arabia joined the club of thug nations? Khashoggi’s fate will help the world decide.

For years, Khashoggi, 59, was widely seen as a cogent, clear-thinking voice on Saudi affairs. As of late, he had been a contributor to The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section. Earlier in his career, he served as an aide for the Saudi regime’s intelligence chief, then established himself as a respected Saudi journalist.

But he also became a critic of the Saudi regime and its day-to-day leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prince Mohammed’s rule has had a Jekyll-and-Hyde cast to it. At the same time he has touted reforms such as allowing women to drive, he has overseen the arrest of activists and critics. He also has prosecuted a brutal, Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

Turkey’s suspicions aren’t certainties, but neither are they preposterous. Khashoggi first went to the Saudi Consulate on Sept. 28 to get the documents he needed but was told to come back in a week. In between Khashoggi’s two consulate visits, a team of 15 Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul on two planes, Turkish officials say. According to The New York Times, Turkish investigators say the agents killed Khashoggi inside the consulate and dismembered his body.

Saudi officials say Khashoggi left the consulate, but they haven’t offered any evidence. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pressed the Saudi regime to come clean, saying Saudi consular officials have access to security cameras that could either prove or refute their claims.

In contrast to Erdogan, President Donald Trump’s reaction has been subdued. “I don’t like hearing about it,” Trump said Monday. “Hopefully that will sort itself out.” Since taking office, Trump has coddled the Saudi regime. He sees the Saudis as valued regional allies against Iran. He may have a soft spot for the crown prince, but if Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi assassins, Trump will have to hold Riyadh accountable.

The Saudi royals covet relations with the West, so they know that Khashoggi’s disappearance marks a crossroads. They can continue to hide behind the facade of reform, or they can embrace real change by freeing dissidents and activists. Most urgently, they owe the world an answer about what’s happened to Khashoggi.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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