ANGER OVER VANISHING ACT
TURKEY and the US have piled pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain how a journalist vanished at its Istanbul consulate.
President Donald Trump became more forceful in his call for answers from Saudi Arabia, but he also rebuffed calls from Congress to show more resolve, saying he would not antagonise an ally.
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi in exile in the US who has been critical of the royal family, disappeared on October 2 when he went to the consulate to get papers so he could wed a Turk.
Turkish officials claim a 15-man Saudi hit squad flew in to kill him. Riyadh insists he left the building safely, but there is no CCTV proof.
THE fishy disappearance of a Saudi journalist, who walked into a consulate to sign divorce papers and never came out, has attracted suspicion of a Tarantino movie-style assassination plot.
US President Donald Trump has vowed to “get to the bottom” of Jamal Khashoggi’s suspected murder by Saudi officials — despite the President having close ties to the kingdom.
Mr Khashoggi — a US resident and former Saudi royal insider who became a strong critic of the kingdom — was seen on CCTV arriving at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Turkey claims a Saudiordered “assassination squad” killed and dismembered the journalist’s body with a bone saw, in a plot that sounds perfect for a movie. “It is like Pulp Fiction,” a Turkish official told the New York Times.
Turkish media released video it claimed showed Saudi intelligence officers entering Turkey via Istanbul airport on October 2, checking into hotels and later leaving the country.
Mr Khashoggi, 59, went to the consulate to finalise his divorce, so he could marry his Turkish fiance Hatice Cengiz.
They had recently purchased an apartment in Istanbul and wanted to wed and divide their time living between Turkey and the US.
Ms Cengiz told CNN she suspected her fiance “may have been kidnapped, abducted, or some harm may have otherwise come to him. I hope that it does not turn out to be murder”.
Ms Cengiz was waiting outside the consulate at lunchtime on October 2 when he walked inside — she never saw him re-emerge.
Turkish authorities believe the journalist was killed inside the building — an allegation firmly denied by the Saudis.
Earlier this week, Turkish security officials claimed the “highest levels of the royal court” in the Saudi kingdom had ordered the assassination of Mr Khashoggi.
But a Saudi spokesman said its priority was to support the investigation, telling CNN: “Jamal’s wellbeing, as a Saudi citizen, is our utmost concern.”
A week after he vanished, Ms Cengiz wrote an emotional article for the
Washington Post newspaper, pleading with Mr Trump to intervene.
“We were in the middle of making wedding plans, life plans. After the consulate, we were going to buy appliances for our new home and set a date. All we needed was a piece of paper,” she wrote. Mr Khashoggi had worked as a columnist for the Post.
She wrote Mr Khashoggi had dreams of becoming an influential journalist in Washington reporting on the Arab world, adding he had expressed concern about the risk of visiting the consulate in Istanbul.
“Although his opinions had angered certain people, he said the tensions between himself and Saudi Arabia did not amount to hate, grudges or threats,” she added.
“Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive.”
Washington Post writer Jason Rezaian said if the claims against the Saudis were true, “it’s a monstrous crime against a journalist”.
Mr Rezaian spent 544 days unjustly imprisoned in Iran after he was convicted of espionage charges.
The US initially kept hush on Mr Khashoggi, as the White House is reluctant to criticise the kingdom or its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Mr Trump and his son-inlaw have close ties with the Saudis, and the President has his own ambitions in the Middle East that depend on the kingdom’s money.
So it is surprising Mr Trump has publicly questioned the writer’s disappearance, even saying: “We cannot let this happen to reporters, to anybody.”
Mr Trump is said to be demanding answers from the Saudis “at the highest level”, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior officials asking the crown prince for more details.
Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir that “friendships depend on shared values”.
Mr Hunt wrote in a tweet that he had demanded “urgent answers” over the disappearance, and if the assassination speculation was proved correct, Britain would be taking serious action against those responsible.
At the same time, Turkey is demanding proof from the Saudis that Mr Khashoggi left the consulate and is still alive.
Mr Khashoggi was once a Saudi insider who served as a close aide to the kingdom’s former spy chief before turning into a vocal critic of the regime — a move that led to his eventual self-exile.
Long considered to be one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent journalists, he has been editor of two Saudi newspapers and a TV news channel since the 1980s.
He covered the rise of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which led to him becoming a valuable source of information in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda-instigated September 11 attacks on the US in 2001.
Under his journalistic leadership in the early 2000s, the al-Watan newspaper ran stories, articles critical of extremists and the way the kingdom enforced religious values. He was fired by the newspaper twice.
More recently he was known as a top critic of the kingdom’s current leadership, speaking out against the continued arrest of critics.
He repeatedly attacked Riyadh’s war against Yemen’s Huthi rebels, a campaign closely identified with Prince Mohammed and which has resulted in thousands of deaths.
In 2017, Mr Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia and lived in selfimposed exile in the US.
The Washington Post claims he left the kingdom because he feared for his safety and the dwindling freedom of speech under the rule of the crown prince.
But in an interview with Bloomberg, the crown prince this week said he was “very keen to know what happened to Mr Khashoggi”.
KHASHOGGI WAS LAST SEEN AT THIS CONSULATE IN ISTANBUL
SAUDI JOURNALIST JAMAL KHASHOGGI