Wednesday 13 November 2019

Trump 'will know by the weekend' what happened to the Saudi journalist

Turkish newspaper says it has audio of Khashoggi’s murder

Ready to go: Turkish police officers gather as they prepare to enter Saudi Arabia consul’s residence, in Istanbul. Photo: AP
Ready to go: Turkish police officers gather as they prepare to enter Saudi Arabia consul’s residence, in Istanbul. Photo: AP

Josie Ensor

The United States would get answers on the missing Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi "by the end of the week", Donald Trump said yesterday, as pressure mounted on the Gulf kingdom over gruesome new details of the suspected murder.

Mr Trump said he "did not like" that Riyadh was "guilty until proven innocent" and would wait for a full report on what might have happened to Mr Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

"I just want to find out what's happening," the US president said, responding to accusations that his administration was soft-pedalling its response. "I'm not giving cover at all," he insisted.

Mr Trump indicated that Washington would not lightly abandon its alliance with Riyadh - a historic customer for the US weapons industry and "partner in the fight against terrorism".

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was dispatched by the president to Turkey yesterday after visiting Saudi Arabia, where he was pictured laughing during what appeared to be jovial meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

His meeting with Turkish officials came hours after 'Yenisafak', a Turkish newspaper, claimed to have an audio recording of Mr Khashoggi's murder. It described the 60-year-old 'Washington Post' columnist as having his fingers cut off and being decapitated minutes after entering the consulate.

Discussions: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shake hands. Photo: AP
Discussions: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shake hands. Photo: AP

The newspaper said that Saudi Consul-General Mohammed al-Otaibi could be heard on the tape, telling those who were allegedly torturing Mr Khashoggi: "Do this outside; you're going to get me in trouble."

The newspaper said a man identified as Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, a forensic pathologist who specialises in gathering DNA from crime scenes and dissecting bodies, replied: "Shut up if you want to live when you return to (Saudi) Arabia."

Mr Trump said the US was asking Turkey for the audio, "if it exists", though sources in Ankara have previously indicated they have already shared it with Washington.

The president has posited that "rogue killers" could be responsible, a claim that would allow the ruling family to distance themselves from the alleged murder, but one widely viewed as implausible in light of the growing evidence.

Mr Trump said yesterday: "I hope that the [Saudi] king and the crown prince didn't know about it. That's the big factor in my eyes, and I hope they haven't."

The name Major-General Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy head of Saudi general intelligence, was circulated yesterday as that of the possible lead assassin.

The Daily Beast, a US news site, reported that "the Saudis will place blame for Khashoggi's murder on a two-star general new to intelligence work".

Mr Assiri, who appears to have no familial ties with the royal family, was previously the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in the war in neighbouring Yemen.

At the same time, investigators were last night searching the residence of Mr Otaibi.

Turkish reports suggested vehicles with diplomatic plates were driven from the consulate to Mr Otaibi's home a mile away, where it is said parts of Mr Khashoggi's body had been either dumped or buried.

Mr Otaibi could not be questioned as he flew out of Turkey to Riyadh on Tuesday, hours before the search was due to begin.

There was speculation yesterday that he had been fired and been ordered to return home.

International pressure on the kingdom was growing last night.

John McDonnell, the UK shadow chancellor, said Britain should consider sanctions on Saudi Arabia if its response to questions over the Khashoggi affair were inadequate.

He told reporters: "If we are not getting the legitimate answers that you would expect, we have got to be one of those countries, because of our special relationship with Saudi... that leads in the reaction to it and that does mean, yes, diplomatic isolation but it also means economic sanctions."

Heiko Maas, Germany's foreign minister, has delayed a scheduled trip to Saudi over its growing concern over the columnist's fate.

And the G7 foreign ministers said in a statement that they remained "very troubled" by the dissident's disappearance.

Irish Independent

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