Friday 19 July 2019

Man linked to Saudi prince ‘present at consulate when writer disappeared’

Inquiries are continuing into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish forensic officers leave the Saudi consulate (AP)
Turkish forensic officers leave the Saudi consulate (AP)

By Suzan Fraser, Sarah El Deeb and Jon Gambrell

A Turkish newspaper has published surveillance video images showing a man who previously travelled with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul before writer Jamal Khashoggi vanished there.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper’s report showed the man outside the Saudi consul general’s home later, then checking out of a Turkish hotel as a large suitcase stood by his side before leaving Turkey on October 2.

The report came as Turkish crime scene investigators finished a search of both the Saudi consul general’s residence and a second search of the consulate itself amid Ankara’s fears that Saudi authorities had Mr Khashoggi killed and dismembered inside the diplomatic mission in Istanbul.

Media reports have detailed what they claim was Mr Khashoggi’s brutal murder (AP)

Saudi Arabia, which initially called the allegations “baseless”, has not responded to repeated requests for comment over recent days.

The Sabah report showed the man walking past police barricades at the consulate at 9.55am local with several men trailing behind him. Mr Khashoggi arrived at the consulate several hours later at 1.14pm, then disappeared while his fiancee waited outside for him. He had arrived at the consulate to pick up some paperwork he needed in order to get married.

An earlier report by the Yeni Safak newspaper, citing what it described as an audio recording of Mr Khashoggi’s killing, said a Saudi team immediately accosted the 60-year-old journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.

Previously leaked surveillance footage showed consular vehicles moving from the consulate to the consul general’s official residence, just over a mile away.

Inquiries are continuing amid widespread concerns over Mr Khashoggi’s fate (AP)

Security services in Turkey have used pro-government media to leak details of Mr Khashoggi’s case, adding to the pressure on the kingdom.

The man in the images’ identity cannot immediately be verified, although he is one of the individuals previously identified by Turkish authorities as being involved in the 15-man Saudi team that targeted Mr Khashoggi.

Images shot by the Houston Chronicle show the same man was in Prince Mohammed’s entourage when he visited Houston, Texas, in April to inspect rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

The same man wore lapel pins, including one of the Saudi-American flag which other bodyguards accompanying Prince Mohammed wore on the trip.

The searches and the leaks in Turkish media have ensured the world’s attention remains focused on what happened to Mr Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who went into a self-imposed exile in the US over the rise of Prince Mohammed.

It also places further strain on the relationship between the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter, and its main security guarantor, the US, as tensions with Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East remain high.

Turkish newspaper reports have published gruesome descriptions of what they say was Mr Khashoggi’s dismemberment (AP)

Flying back home after a visit to both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo remained positive about an ongoing Saudi probe into Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, but he stressed that answers are needed.

“Sooner’s better than later for everyone,” Mr Pompeo said.

US president Donald Trump, who initially took a tough stance on the Saudis over the disappearance but since has backed off, said the US wanted Turkey to turn over any audio or video recording it had of Mr Khashoggi’s alleged killing “if it exists”.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post has published what it described as Mr Khashoggi’s last column in honour of the missing journalist.

In it, Mr Khashoggi pointed to the muted international response to ongoing abuses against journalists by governments in the Middle East.

“As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate,” Mr Khashoggi wrote.

He added: “The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power.”

PA Media

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