Saudi Arabia admits missing journalist is dead, but where’s the body?
POLICE have expanded the search for Jamal Khashoggi’s remains as the world demands answers about what happened inside the Saudi consulate.
More info revealed on the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
DETAILS of how Saudi Arabia deployed an online army of trolls to harass Jamal Khashoggi have emerged as questions continue to swirl over the journalist’s mysterious death.
Turkish officials accuse Riyadh of carrying out a state-sponsored killing and dismembering Khashoggi’s body. Police have been scouring a a rural village an hour south of Istanbul after searches on the consulate and the residence of the Saudi consul-general.
Australia has joined Canada, the European Union, Germany, France, Britain and the United Nations in demanding clarity into Khashoggi’s death.
The Saudi journalist was a high-profile critic of his country’s leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
He went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Khashoggi’s killers could have dumped his remains in Belgrad Forest near Istanbul, and at a rural location near the city of Yalova, a one-hour drive south of Istanbul, the officials said.
“The investigations led to some suspicion that his remains may be in the city of Yalova and the Belgrad forest, police have been searching these areas,” one of the officials said.
They added a “farm house or villa” may have been used to dump the remains.
Turkish police have also searched the Saudi consulate and the home of the Saudi consul general’s residence in Istanbul, where they left with bags and boxes.
Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi died during a “brawl” inside the consulate on October 2.
Eighteen nationals have reportedly been arrested in connection with the suspected murder, and five of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s top aides — including intelligence official Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani — have been sacked.
Khashoggi, who recently wrote for the Washington Post, had penned columns critical of Prince Mohammed.
Turkish officials in Ankara vowed to reveal all the details of its two-week inquiry as US President Donald Trump said he was unsatisfied with Saudi Arabia’s response.
The European Union, Germany, France, Britain and the UN have also demanded clarity into the missing journalist’s death.
A Saudi public prosecutor revealed on state television on Saturday a primary investigation into Khashoggi disappearance confirmed he was dead.
“The discussions between Jamal Khashoggi and those he met at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul … devolved into a fistfight, leading to his death,” the public prosecutor said.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expresses deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place in this case and affirms the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the attention of the public and to hold accountable all those involved.”
According to state TV, those responsible then tried to cover up the death.
Mr Trump vowed “severe punishment” should the United States find Saudi Arabia responsible for the death of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi — but he doesn’t intend to back down on a lucrative arms deal with the kingdom.
He said it was “a good first step” that Saudi Arabia had identified those allegedly responsible for Khashoggi’s death in Turkey.
“It’s a big step. It’s a lot of people involved,” Mr Trump said after a roundtable at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
“I think it’s a very important first step and it happened sooner than people thought it would happen.”
“We’ll be talking to them. We do have some questions.”
Mr Trump pledged unspecified “severe punishment” should there be Saudi involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and never came out.
But Mr Trump said he didn’t want to step away from a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a major US ally and arms customer, as it would hurt American manufacturers.
“I would prefer if there is going to be some form of sanctions — this was a lot of people they’re talking about,” he said.
“I would prefer we don’t use as retribution cancelled $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs.”
Mr Trump also said that sanctions against Saudi Arabia “could be” something he would consider, but that “it’s too early to say” how the US will respond for now.
But not everyone has bought Saudi Arabia’s “latest narrative” about what reportedly happened to Khashoggi. US Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the conservative kingdom’s most vocal defenders in Congress and a close ally of Mr Trump, led the chorus online of those who were “sceptical”.
“First we were told Mr Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement,” Mr Graham wrote.
“Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince.”
UN Secretary-General spokesman Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply troubled” by the announcement. “The Secretary-General stresses the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible,” he said.
But there’s one person believed to be at the centre of the scandal who is yet to make any public mention of it: Crown Prince bin Salman. US officials told CNN that the killing could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Prince bin Salman.
Turkish reports say Khashoggi, who had written columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post over the past year while he lived in self-imposed exile in the US, was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered the consulate on October 2. It’s believed members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are responsible for his death. The Saudis have dismissed those reports as baseless but have yet to explain what happened to the writer.
In Istanbul, a leaked surveillance photo showed a man who has been a member of the Crown Prince’s entourage during trips abroad walking into the Saudi Consulate just before Khashoggi vanished there — timing that drew the kingdom’s heir-apparent closer to the columnist’s apparent demise.
Turkish officials say Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb flew into Istanbul on a private jet along with an “autopsy expert” on October 2 and left that night.
A Turkish newspaper has also reported that the contents of Khashoggi’s Apple Watch recorded his final brutal moments.
According to The Sabah newspaper, authorities recovered the audio from the journalist’s iPhone and his iCloud account, which were synched to his watch.
It’s believed he gave his phone to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz before entering the consulate to arrange paperwork for his marriage.
The tape, if it’s authentic, supposedly reveals Khashoggi had his fingers cut off. According to local media, his panicked dying screams could be heard before he was “injected with an unknown drug” and went off the grid.
Despite intense scrutiny on Prince bin Salman, who is suspected of being the mastermind behind the possible killing, he is yet to publicly respond to the accusations. But there have been top secret talks behind close doors.
A US official said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week warned the Saudi crown prince that his credibility as a future leader was at stake. The prince is next in line for the throne held by his elderly father King Salman.
“They made clear to me that they too understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi,” he said.
“They also assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr Khashoggi and that they will do so in a timely fashion.”
Mr Pompeo said that whatever response the administration might decide on would take into account the importance of the longstanding US-Saudi partnership. He said, “They’re an important strategic ally of the US, and we need to be mindful of that.”
Mr Trump acknowledged Thursday it “certainly looks” as though the missing journalist was dead and vowed “very severe” consequences if the Saudis are found to have murdered him.
“It’s bad, bad stuff,” he said.
“But we’ll see what happens.”
After speaking with King Salman over the phone on Monday, Mr Trump said the political dictator denied knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
“Maybe these could have been rogue killers — who knows?” Mr Trump said.
The messaging underscored the administration’s concern about the effect the case could have on relations with a close and valuable strategic partner. Increasingly upset US politicians have condemned the Saudis and questioned the seriousness with which Mr Trump and his top aides are treating the matter, while the president has emphasised the billions of dollars in weapons the Saudis purchase from the US.
‘THIS GUY IS A WRECKING BALL’
According to US media reports, the kingdom was earlier considering an admission that Khashoggi died after an interrogation that went wrong during an intended abduction.
CNN reports Saudi Arabia might release the information in a written report, but that the details were subject to change. Citing two unnamed sources, the cable news network alleged the report would likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and that those involved will be held responsible.
US Vice President Mike Pence said earlier in Colorado that “the world deserves answers” about what happened to Khashoggi, “and those who are responsible need to be held to account.”
Senator Graham said the Crown Prince has “got to go” and vowed never to return to the country as long as the young leader remains in power.
“This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it — I feel used and abused,” he told Fox & Friends.
He said Prince bin Salman was “toxic” and should “never be a world leader on the world stage”.
When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to power in 2015, his rise was seen as a sign of the shifting sands in Saudi Arabia.
The 33-year-old leader pushed ambitious plans to transform the country into a modern state through a series of reforms that would secure its economic future. The ultraconservative kingdom lifted its driving ban on women in June this year.
Prince bin Salman boasted a “Vision 2030” plan to ease social controls in the kingdom and embrace a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam.
He was the young reformer set on bringing the Middle Eastern kingdom into the 21st century and opening it up to the world, with western diplomats hailing him as a breath of fresh air in the regressive nation.
This was widely regarded as a PR exercise designed to make the country more palatable to the West. But it worked.
Despite his country’s atrocious human rights record, Prince bin Salman was received in the US like a celebrity in April.
But his image has been severely tarnished on multiple occasions — he arrested at least seven high-profile women’s activists in May, detained Lebanon leader Saad Hariri and allegedly forced him to resign, and threatened to arrest anyone who dared question his reforms.
Late last year, he was behind a Game of Thrones-style purge billed as an “anti-corruption” campaign, detaining dozens of members of Saudi Arabia’s political and business elite accused of corruption.
Under his watch, Saudi Arabia intervened in the civil war in neighbouring Yemen, entered a massive diplomatic spat with Canada, and isolated Qatar by closing the smaller country’s only land border.
But it was the mysterious disappearance of one of his most prominent critics, Khashoggi, that has marked a major shift in the public perception of Prince bin Salman in the West.
Once close to the royal family and an adviser to the country’s former intelligence chief, Khashoggi became a sharp critic of its young and ambitious crown prince for cracking down on any opposition and miring the country in international conflicts that killed thousands of people.
After Khashoggi criticised the kingdom’s celebration of Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016, a royal court official who was close to him advised him to stop tweeting and publishing stories — a clear sign that his opinion was no longer welcome. The journalist immigrated to the US the following year.
In a final column for the Washington Post, which the newspaper said it received from his assistant on October 3 and was published on the 17th of this month, Khashoggi warned that governments in the Middle East “have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasingrate.” He noted that some Middle East leaders were blocking internet access so they could tightly control what their citizenscan see.
“The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vyingfor power,” Khashoggi wrote.
THE TRUTH COSTS
International pressure has continued to mount against Prince bin Salman and the Saudis, with France, Germany, the UK and the US pushing for answers.
Representatives from more than a dozen western news outlets, including the New York Times, The Financial Times, Bloomberg and The Economist, have removed their media sponsorship and withdrawn from an upcoming international conference to be hosted by the prince in Saudi Arabia next week, according to Axios.
Top technology executives have started to pull away from the Neom project advisory board, an ambitious $500 billion project spruiked by the kingdom as a sustainable futuristic megacity.
Apple’s chief design officer Jony Ive, former US secretary of energy Ernest Moriz, Footpath Labs’ Dan Doctoroff, and former vice president of the European Commission Neelie Kroes have all suspended their involvement in the project.
Earlier this week, prominent Saudi journalist Turki Aldakhil warned the US it would “stab its own economy to death” if it retaliated with sanctions.
In a blistering opinion piece, Aldakhil warned such actions would cause oil prices to rise as high as $200 a barrel, drive the Middle East towards Iran and lead Riyadh to permit a Russian military base in the city of Tabuk.
“If US sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world,” Aldakhil wrote for the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel.
“If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.”
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