ISTANBUL - Turkish police on Monday searched the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for the first time since journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing, as US President Donald Trump floated the idea that "rogue killers" could be to blame for his disappearance.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident who became increasingly critical of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not been seen since he walked into the Istanbul consulate to sort out marriage paperwork on October 2.
Turkish officials have said they believe he was killed -- a claim Saudi Arabia has denied -- with the controversy dealing a huge blow to the kingdom's image and efforts by its youthful crown prince to showcase a reform drive.
Trump despatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for what the State Department described as "face to face meetings with the Saudi leadership" to find out what happened.
Until now, Riyadh has not allowed Turkish investigators to search the consulate -- officially Saudi territory -- with reports both sides were at odds over the conditions.
But late Monday evening -- after Turkish authorities placed high iron barriers in front of the consulate -- a motorcade of six cars drew up and Turkish police and prosecutors entered the premises.
Some police were in uniform while other officials were in suits carrying printers and files, an AFP correspondent said.
A Saudi delegation had entered the consulate one hour before the Turkish police arrived and appeared still to be inside as the search was conducted.
A Turkish forensic expert was seen on the roof close to the consulate's flag. After over three hours work, the teams were still inside the consulate.
Trump's comments came after a telephone conversation with King Salman, father of the crown prince, the first such talks since the crisis erupted.
"Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen'," Trump tweeted.
Riyadh's most recent comments have focused on having no knowledge of any killing or denying any such order had been given.
"The denial was very, very strong," Trump later told reporters at the White House. "It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?"
CNN reports that the Saudi government is preparing to say Khashoggi died during an interrogation that went wrong.
The report was attributed to two unnamed sources. It says one of the sources told them that the intention was to abduct Khashoggi and it had not been authorized by the Saudi government.
President Donald Trump told reporters Monday that he was aware of the report but did not know if it was correct.
After critical talks in Riyadh Tuesday, Pomepeo was expected in Turkey on Wednesday to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
The search came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Salman also had their first telephone talks since the controversy erupted, in what appeared to be a conciliatory conversation according to official readouts.
While lurid claims have appeared in Turkish media -- including that Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered -- Turkey's leadership has so far refrained from pointing the finger directly at Riyadh in public comments.
King Salman emphasised the importance of the Turkey-Saudi relationship and said no-one should be able to "undermine the strength of this relationship," Saudi's official media reported.