Trump, Eu­ro­peans call Saudi ac­count of Khashoggi death in­com­plete

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

ELKO, Nev./IS­TAN­BUL, (Reuters) - U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump joined Eu­ro­pean lead­ers yes­ter­day in push­ing Saudi Ara­bia for more an­swers about Ja­mal Khashoggi af­ter Riyadh changed its story and ac­knowl­edged that the jour­nal­ist died over two weeks ago at its con­sulate in Is­tan­bul.

Saudi Ara­bia said on Fri­day that Khashoggi, a critic of the coun­try’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, had died in a fight in­side the build­ing.

Ger­many called that ex­pla­na­tion “in­ad­e­quate” and ques­tioned whether coun­tries should sell arms to Saudi Ara­bia, while France and the Eu­ro­pean Union urged an in-depth in­ves­ti­ga­tion to find out what hap­pened to the Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist af­ter he en­tered the con­sulate on Oct. 2 for doc­u­ments for his mar­riage.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials sus­pect Khashoggi, a Saudi na­tional and U.S. res­i­dent, was killed in­side the con­sulate by a team of Saudi agents and his body cut up.

The Khashoggi case has caused an in­ter­na­tional out­rage and frayed po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness ties be­tween Western pow­ers and U.S. ally Saudi Ara­bia, the world’s No.1 oil ex­porter.

Asked dur­ing a trip to Ne­vada if he was sat­is­fied that Saudi of­fi­cials had been fired over Khashoggi’s death, Trump said: “No, I am not sat­is­fied un­til we find the an­swer. But it was a big first step, it was a good first step. But I want to get to the an­swer.”

Trump’s com­ments about the Khashoggi in­ci­dent in re­cent days have ranged from threat­en­ing Saudi Ara­bia with “very se­vere” con­se­quences and warn­ing of eco­nomic sanc­tions, to more con­cil­ia­tory re­marks in which he has played up the coun­try’s role as a U.S. ally against Iran and Is­lamist mil­i­tants, as well as a ma­jor pur­chaser of U.S. arms.

He had ear­lier called the Saudi nar­ra­tive of what hap­pened to Khashoggi cred­i­ble.

Riyadh pro­vided no ev­i­dence yes­ter­day to sup­port its ac­count and made no men­tion of what had be­come of Khashoggi’s body.

French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian called for a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, in a joint state­ment with her for­eign min­is­ter, said the Saudi ac­count was not enough.

“We ex­pect trans­parency from Saudi Ara­bia about the cir­cum­stances of his death ... The in­for­ma­tion avail­able about events in the Is­tan­bul con­sulate is in­ad­e­quate,” the Ger­mans said.

Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Heiko Maas called into ques­tion the sale of arms to Saudi Ara­bia.

Trump said it was pos­si­ble that Prince Mo­hammed had been un­aware of the cir­cum­stances around the death of Khashoggi, 59. Trump said he would speak with the prince.

For Western al­lies, a main ques­tion in the Khashoggi af­fair will be whether they be­lieve that the prince, who has painted him­self as a re­former, has any cul­pa­bil­ity. King Sal­man, 82, had handed the day-to­day run­ning of Saudi Ara­bia to him.

Trump, who has forged close ties with Saudi Ara­bia and the crown prince, said he was con­cerned that it was un­clear where the jour­nal­ist’s body is.

Turk­ish in­ves­ti­ga­tors are likely to find out what hap­pened to the body “be­fore long”, a se­nior Turk­ish of­fi­cial said ear­lier yes­ter­day.

Of­fi­cials told Reuters in Turkey on Thurs­day that Khashoggi’s re­mains may have been dumped in Bel­grad For­est ad­ja­cent to Is­tan­bul, and at a ru­ral lo­ca­tion near the city of Yalova, 90 km (55 miles) south of Is­tan­bul.

Turk­ish sources say the au­thor­i­ties have an au­dio record­ing pur­port­edly doc­u­ment­ing Khashoggi’s mur­der in­side the con­sulate. Pro-gov­ern­ment Turk­ish news­pa­per Yeni Safak, cit­ing the au­dio, said his tor­tur­ers cut off his fin­gers dur­ing an in­ter­ro­ga­tion and later be­headed him.

Trump said no one from his ad­min­is­tra­tion has seen video or a tran­script of what hap­pened in­side the con­sulate.

A group of 15 Saudi na­tion­als ar­rived in Is­tan­bul in two planes and en­tered the con­sulate on the same day Khashoggi was there and later left the coun­try, a Turk­ish se­cu­rity source told Reuters.

SAUDI VER­SION

Saudi Ara­bia had un­til now stren­u­ously de­nied that Khashoggi had died in the con­sulate.

But the Saudi pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor said on Fri­day that a fight broke out be­tween Khashoggi and peo­ple who met him in the build­ing, lead­ing to his death. Eigh­teen Saudi na­tion­als had been ar­rested, the pros­e­cu­tor said.

A Saudi of­fi­cial told Reuters sep­a­rately: “A group of Saudis had a phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tion and Ja­mal died as a re­sult of the choke­hold. They were try­ing to keep him quiet.”

Khashoggi’s Turk­ish fi­ancée, Hat­ice Cen­giz, tweeted in Ara­bic: “They have taken your body from this world, but your beau­ti­ful smile will stay in my world for­ever.”

Saudi state me­dia said King Sal­man had or­dered the dis­missal of five of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Saud al-Qah­tani, a royal court ad­viser seen as the right-hand man to Prince Mo­hammed, and deputy in­tel­li­gence chief Ahmed Asiri.

The cri­sis prompted the king to in­ter­vene, five sources with links to the Saudi royal fam­ily told Reuters.

The king also or­dered a re­struc­tur­ing of the in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, to be led by Prince Mo­hammed, sug­gest­ing the prince still re­tained wide-rang­ing au­thor­ity.

Saudi Ara­bia’s re­gional al­lies - in­clud­ing Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emi­rates - is­sued state­ments in praise of the king.

The dis­missed of­fi­cial Qah­tani, 40, rose to promi­nence af­ter latch­ing onto Prince Mo­hammed, be­com­ing a rare con­fi­dant in his in­ner cir­cle.

Sources say Qah­tani would reg­u­larly speak on be­half of the crown prince and has given di­rect or­ders to se­nior of­fi­cials in­clud­ing in the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

The New York Times re­ported yes­ter­day, cit­ing U.S. and Saudi of­fi­cials, that Qah­tani cre­ated the strat­egy be­hind the de­ploy­ment of an on­line army to ha­rass Khashoggi and other crit­ics of the king­dom on Twit­ter.

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