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US cautious over Khashoggi as new claims emerge

Updated October 18, 2018

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ISTANBUL: Turkish police fly a drone over the residence of Saudi Arabia’s Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi on Wednesday.—AFP
ISTANBUL: Turkish police fly a drone over the residence of Saudi Arabia’s Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi on Wednesday.—AFP

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Wednesday denied covering up for ally Saudi Arabia in the suspected murder of a critical journalist and said that he should know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi within days.

“No not at all, I just want to find out what’s happening,” Trump told reporters in the White House when asked if his consistently cautious approach to the scandal amounts to a cover-up. “I’m not giving cover at all.”

The president said he would get a “full report” from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the diplomat’s return from meetings with Saudi and Turkish leaders and that he’d then know the truth. “We will probably know that by the end of the week,” Trump said.

His comments followed publication in pro-government Turkish media of allegations purporting to confirm that Khashoggi was not just murdered by Saudi agents in their consulate in Istanbul, but dismembered.

According to the reports, the assassination squad included agents tied to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a powerful figure in the Saudi royal family and lynchpin in the trend toward ever-tightening relations with the White House.

The US president has been on the defensive ever since Khashoggi — a US resident and Washington Post contributor who had criticised Prince Mohammed — vanished on Oct 2 after visiting the Istanbul consulate.

Investigation in Istanbul

Turkish police on Wednesday began searching the residence of the Saudi consul in Istanbul for their investigation, with forensics experts in white overalls entering the building, an AFP correspondent said.

The Saudi consul Mohammed al-Otaibi left Istanbul for Riyadh on a scheduled Saudia flight Tuesday afternoon, with Ankara insisting he had not been expelled but left of his own choice.

Turkish police on Monday night also carried out an eight-hour search at the consulate itself, taking away soil and DNA samples. Erdogan said toxic material was found which had been “painted over”.

Decapitated

Pro-government Turkish daily Yeni Safak reported it had heard audio recordings of Khashoggi being tortured during an interrogation, having his fingers cut off and then being decapitated.

It said al-Otaibi can be heard on one tape saying during Khashoggi’s torture: “Do this outside. You are going to get me in trouble.” The daily reported that in another tape, an unknown individual tells Otaibi: “If you want to live when you return to Saudi Arabia, be quiet!”

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that a suspect identified by Turkey was a frequent companion of the prince’s. Three other suspects are linked to his security detail and a fifth is a high-level forensic doctor, The Times said.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2018