ISTANBUL — A Turkish prosecutor said on Thursday that his country should drop its case against suspects in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, bowing to a demand from Saudi Arabia as Turkey tries to mend relations with the kingdom.
The prosecutor told the court hearing the case that it was pointless to continue because none of the 26 accused, all Saudi nationals, is in custody, or even in Turkey, and Turkish law does not allow defendants to be convicted in absentia, the Demiroren news agency reported.
The court said it would request an opinion from the Justice Ministry and postponed the next hearing to April 7, according to Reporters Without Borders of Turkey and Mr. Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was present in court.
Mr. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who wrote opinion columns for The Washington Post, had been critical of his country’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. He went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 to obtain documents allowing him to marry Ms. Cengiz.
He was murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate by Saudi agents who had flown there explicitly to kill him and then quickly returned to Saudi Arabia, according to the Turkish and Western governments. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Prince Mohammed himself ordered the killing, and a United Nations investigation found that it had been carefully planned and endorsed by high-level Saudi officials.
The Saudi government has denied any involvement by its leaders. Mr. Khashoggi’s remains have never been found.
In the weeks after the killing, the Turkish government pursed a calculated media strategy of releasing revelations piecemeal from its investigation into the assassination, including flight records, surveillance video and the Saudis’ use of an elaborate ruse involving a Khashoggi look-alike. The Turks’ approach repeatedly embarrassed the kingdom and forced it to backtrack from denials it had issued.
The case heightened tensions between Prince Mohammed and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has cast himself as a leader of the kind of democratic and Islamist movements in the Middle East that the Saudi royal family sees as a threat to its rule.
Turkish prosecutors had called for life imprisonment for 24 Saudi suspects accused of taking part in the killing, and up to five years in jail for two others accused of concealing evidence, Demiroren reported.
But on Thursday the prosecutor said the case should be handed over to Saudi Arabia, as that country has demanded. Around the same time, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said in an interview with the broadcaster A Haber that there are currently “important steps” being taken to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.