ANGER OVER VANISHING ACT

Herald Sun - - NEWS - NATASHA CHRIS­TIAN

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

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