Monday 19 November 2018

'Rogues' may have killed journalist, insists Trump

Handshake: US President Donald Trump with and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Riyadh in May last year. Photo: GETTY
Handshake: US President Donald Trump with and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Riyadh in May last year. Photo: GETTY

Raf Sanchez

US President Donald Trump suggested yesterday that "rogue killers" might be responsible for murdering Jamal Khashoggi, the missing journalist, after speaking to the Saudi king on the phone.

The US president said King Salman had "firmly denied" that the Saudi state was behind the alleged killing.

He also dispatched Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, to fly to Riyadh to meet the king and seek answers about Mr Khashoggi's alleged murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

"I don't want to get into his [King Salman's] mind but it sounded to me like maybe it could have been rogue killers, who knows?

"We're going to try get to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial," Mr Trump said.

His comments came as Saudi Arabia was last night said to be preparing to admit that Mr Khashoggi died as a result of an interrogation that went wrong, according to reports in the US.

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

Turkish officials had speculated that the Saudi government would blame "rogue" elements of its security services as a way of insulating Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, from international criticism.

Mr Trump's reference to the theory is likely to further fuel speculation that Riyadh will blame individual Saudi operatives for Mr Khashoggi's disappearance, while denying that there was any government order to kill him.

After meeting the Turkish foreign minister yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "There remain questions about Mr Khashoggi that only Saudi Arabia can answer."

Meanwhile, a joint Turkish-Saudi team began their first search of the Istanbul consulate.

Saudi officials had reportedly resisted allowing Turkish police into the consulate after learning that investigators planned to use Luminol, a forensic chemical that reveals bloodstains even if they have been washed clean.

The search team did not appear to be carrying equipment and it was not clear whether they would carry out a forensic investigation.

Several hours before the searchers arrived, journalists spotted a cleaning crew going inside the consulate.

King Salman also ordered prosecutors to launch an internal Saudi probe.

The opening of the probe and the consulate search marked a new flurry of activity on the Saudi side, after two weeks in which Riyadh has done little except deny responsibility.

The shift in the Saudi position came as the kingdom remained under intense pressure from Washington and business leaders over the case.

The White House said it expected Saudi Arabia to carry out "a swift and transparent" investigation "this week".

Larry Kudlow, Mr Trump's economic adviser, said the US would take "stern action" if necessary" and brushed off Riyadh's threats to drive up oil prices.

Meanwhile, the chiefs of Blackstone and BlackRock, two major US investment firms, joined an exodus of executives pulling out of Crown Prince's "Davos in the Desert" summit.

A number of major media outlets has also pulled out of the forum.

Those sceptical about Saudi Arabia criticised Mr Trump for invoking the "rogue killers" theory, suggesting that he was falling for a Saudi ploy.

"Been hearing the ridiculous 'rogue killers' theory was where the Saudis would go with this. Absolutely extraordinary they were able to enlist the president as their PR agent to float it," said Chris Murphy, a Democrat senator.

Dr Neil Quilliam, senior research fellow at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank, said it was "highly unlikely" that senators would buy the rogue killers theory.

Mr Khashoggi, a familiar face on Arab talk shows, moved to the US last year fearing retribution for criticism of Prince Mohammed, who has cracked down on dissent.

The former newspaper editor once interviewed Osama bin Laden and later became a consummate insider, advising former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal when he served as ambassador in London and Washington.

A pro-government Turkish daily published preliminary evidence last week from investigators it said identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team which arrived in Istanbul on diplomatic passports hours before Khashoggi disappeared.

Irish Independent

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