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ISTANBUL — The mystery deepened Wednesday about the fate of a veteran Saudi journalist who entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday afternoon and has not been seen since.
The journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, a sharp critic of the Saudi leadership, went to the consulate to obtain a document he needed to get married, but never came out, his fiancée and several close friends said.
On Wednesday, the Saudi government said he had left the consulate, the Turkish government said he was still inside, and his fiancée and friends said he was still missing.
His fiancée, Hatice, who asked that her surname not be published for concern for her safety, had waited for him outside the consulate until after midnight Tuesday and returned when the consulate reopened on Wednesday morning.
She said she had not seen or heard from Mr. Khashoggi since he entered the consulate around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and believes he has been detained by the Saudi government.
The Saudi government, however, said in a statement that reports that Mr. Khashoggi “went missing inside the Saudi consulate” in Istanbul “are false.”
“Mr. Khashoggi visited the consulate to request paperwork related to his marital status and exited shortly thereafter,” the statement by a Saudi official said.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in accordance with diplomatic protocol, added that Mr. Khashoggi “is not in the consulate nor in Saudi custody.”
The disappearance presents Turkish officials with a sharp diplomatic challenge. Relations have not been smooth with Saudi Arabia since Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sided with Qatar in a dispute among the rich Arab Gulf States a year ago.
Mr. Erdogan’s national security adviser and spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, told reporters Wednesday that the Turkish authorities were working on the case. “Our related units are following the issue,” he said, according to the Turkish news media. “According to information we have, this person, who is a Saudi citizen, is still at the Istanbul consulate of Saudi Arabia.”
Turkish and international reporters gathered Wednesday outside the consulate, a two-story ocher-colored building behind high walls on a leafy side-street in Istanbul’s business district. Police barriers, a long-term security feature, blocked the street.
Mr. Khashoggi’s fiancée was still clutching the two telephones he entrusted to her when he went inside, waiting for him to reappear.
“He did not say it, but he was worried,” she said in an interview on the side of the street. The consulate had been polite and cooperative, she said, but Mr. Khashoggi had been “stressed and sad” that he was forced to enter the consulate to obtain the papers he needed.
He had told a friend the day before that he feared he could be kidnapped and returned to Saudi Arabia if he entered the consulate.
Members of the Turk-Arab Media Association, of which Mr. Khashoggi is a member, said they believed he was still inside the consulate building.
The Turkish police who provide security for the consulate checked their security cameras and did not see Mr. Khashoggi leave the consulate on foot, according to Turan Kislakci, a friend of Mr. Khashoggi’s who is head of the association.
But he and others said that diplomatic cars had been moving in and out of the consulate since Tuesday.
Their fear is that Mr. Khashoggi, who has been living in self-imposed exile since last year, has been or could be spirited away to Saudi Arabia.
As Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has consolidated power, the government has arrested hundreds of clerics, activists and businessmen, some of whom were detained outside the country and forcibly repatriated.
Mr. Khashoggi, who was a prominent Saudi journalist and an adviser to senior government officials, had been close to the ruling elite until he split with the government last year. He has since become an active critic of the government and was living in Washington.
Having divorced his wife, who had remained in Saudi Arabia, he went to the Saudi consulate on Tuesday to obtain a document certifying that he was no longer married so he could marry his Turkish fiancée.
David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from London.