‘Saudis still aren’t coming clean’
Riyadh’s account of killing denounced — except by Trump
ISTANBUL — Turkey will “never allow a coverup” of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, a senior official in Turkey’s ruling party said Saturday, reflecting international skepticism over the Saudi account that the writer died during a “fistfight.”
The Saudi explanation — that an argument in the consulate led toa fatal brawl — is at odds with the conclusions of Turkish investigators, who believe that Khashoggi was deliberately killed by a team of Saudi agents who were dispatched to Istanbul.
Turkey’s comment was one of many critical reactions to Saudi Arabia’s announcement early Saturday of the writer’s death, indicating the kingdom’s efforts to defuse a scandal that has gripped the world were falling short.
President Donald Trump, however, was an exception.
Asked whether he thought the Saudi explanation was credible, Trump replied: “I do. I do.”
Trump told reporters Saturday afternoon that he would be speaking with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, soon and is considering placing sanctions on Riyadh, though preferably not on U.S. sales of arms and other military equipment.
“That would hurt us far more than itwould ... them,” Trump said.
He said no one in his administration had heard audio or seen video of what transpired in the Saudi Consulate nor reviewed transcripts of any recordings.
“I’m not satisfied until we find the answer,” he said, referring to how Khashoggi, a U.S. permanent resident who was living in self exile in Virginia, was killed.
Trump appeared to initially accept the Saudi explanation, but U.S. lawmakers, intelligence officials and foreign policy experts quickly accused the Riyadh government of a cover-up.
“This is an admission of guilt, but the Saudis still aren’t coming clean with the truth,” Sen. Jack Reed, R.I., the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services committee, said in a statement. “The Saudi’s latest version of events still isn’t credible, and the Trump administration must not be complicit in allowing them to sweep this under the rug.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the Saudi version of events changes “with each passing day, so we should not assume their latest story holds water.”
Other nations also expressed criticism.
Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, issued a joint statement, according to Reuters, saying: “We expect transparency from Saudi Arabia about the circumstances of his death. ... The information available about events in Istanbul is inadequate.”
“The Spanish government is dismayed by early reports from the Saudi prosecutor about the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” Spain said in a statement.
Despite outrage over the killing of the columnist for The Washington Post, it is unclear to what extent the top leadership of Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and a powerful player in a volatile region, would be held accountable for what human rights activists describe as an extrajudicial killing by Saudi agents.
The only way to find out what happened would be through an international investigation led by a U.N.-appointed panel, the edito- rial board of The Washington Post said.
Saudi Arabia’s “latest version asks us to believe that Mr. Khashoggi died after becoming engaged in a ‘brawl’ with officials who had been sent to meet him. His body, Saudi officials told several journalists, was handed over to a ‘local collaborator’ for disposal,” it said, while also criticizing Trump for allegedly trying to help top Saudi leaders escape “meaningful accountability.”
Saudi Arabia said 18 Saudi suspects were in custody and intelligence officials had been fired.
But critics believe the complex scheme that led to Khashoggi’s death could not have occurred without the knowledge of Mohammed, the 33-year-old crown prince whose early promises of sweeping reform are being eclipsed by concerns that he maybe an impulsive, even sinister figure.
The Saudi narrative of Khashoggi’s death contrasts with Turkish pro-government media reports that a Saudi hit squad traveled to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi and dispose of his body, which has not been found.
The overnight statement, released by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, that the writer died in the consulate also came more than two weeks after Khashoggi, 59, entered the building for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancee— and never came out.
Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge of his disappearance.
The kingdom has described assertions in Turkish media, based on purported audio recordings that Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered inside the consulate, as “baseless.”
Turkish politicians pushed back Saturday.
“It’s not possible for the Saudi administration to wiggle itself out of this crime if it’s confirmed,” said Numan Kurtulmus, deputy head of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party. He also said Turkey would share its evidence of Khashoggi’s killing with the world and that a “conclusive result” of the investigation is close.
“God have mercy on you my love Jamal, and may you rest in Paradise,” Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted following the Saudi announcements.
President Donald Trump says no one in his administration has heard audio of what happened in the Saudi Consulate.