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Khashoggi killing “worst cover-up” – Trump

Trump on Khashoggi killingPresident Donald Trump said Saudi authorities staged the “worst cover-up ever” in the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month, as the United States vowed to revoke visas of some believed to be responsible.

Trump spoke hours after Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, dismissed Saudi efforts to blame Khashoggi’s death on rogue operatives. Erdogan urged Riyadh to search “from top to bottom” to uncover those behind Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, an incident that sparked global outrage and strained relations between Riyadh and Washington.

For Saudi Arabia’s allies, the question will be whether they believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who paints himself a reformer, has any culpability.

“There should have never been an execution or a cover-up, because it should have never happened,” Trump told reporters. He spoke with the crown prince who denied having anything to do with Khashoggi’s killing.

Earlier, Trump said the Khashoggi matter was handled badly by Saudi officials.

“Bad deal, should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, was a US resident and Washington Post columnist.

Trump’s comments ranged from threatening Saudi Arabia with “severe” consequences and mentioning possible economic sanctions to more conciliatory remarks highlighting the country’s role as a US ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of US arms.

Trump did not give his views on who was ultimately responsible. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States identified some Saudi government and security officials it believed were involved and would take appropriate actions including revoking US visas.

The US State Department said 21 Saudis would have visas revoked or be made ineligible for US visas. Another official said the majority of the group had US visas.

“As we continue to develop our understanding of the individuals responsible for this, not only those who executed it but those who were connected to it, the world should know we intend to hold those individuals accountable when we develop this fact set,” Pompeo told reporters.

Pompeo said the State Department was looking into whether sanctions could be applicable for those found to be involved.

“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States,” Pompeo said, although he emphasised as have other senior US officials, the importance of the US-Saudi relationship. “Neither the president nor I are happy with this situation.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the US measures.

As the crisis unfolded over the past three weeks, Saudi Arabia changed its tune on Khashoggi. Riyadh initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate before saying he was killed in a fight in the consulate, an account met with scepticism from several Western governments, straining relations with the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Saudi Arabia detained 18 people and dismissed five senior government officials as part of an investigation into Khashoggi’s death. One of those fired is Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide who ran social media for Prince Mohammed. According to two intelligence sources, Qahtani ran Khashoggi’s killing by giving orders over Skype.

Turkish security sources say when Khashoggi entered the consulate he was seized by 15 Saudi intelligence operatives who flew in on two jets hours before.


ERDOGAN VOW

Erdogan on Tuesday stopped short of mentioning the crown prince who some US lawmakers suspect ordered the killing.

“The Saudi administration has taken an important step by admitting to the murder. From now on, we expect them to uncover all those responsible for this matter from top to bottom and make them face the necessary punishments,” Erdogan said in a speech in parliament.

“From the person who gave the order, to the person who carried it out, they must all be brought to account,” Turkey’s president said.

Turkish sources said authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting the killing. Erdogan made no reference to any audio recording.

A Saudi Cabinet meeting chaired by King Salman said Riyadh would hold to account those responsible for the killing and those who failed in their duties, whoever they were.

Turkish investigators searched a Saudi consulate vehicle in Istanbul that contained suitcases and other items, according to broadcaster CNN Turk. It was not clear what was in the suitcases.

‘BRUTAL MURDER’

Trump said he would work with the US Congress to determine US response to the Khashoggi matter.

A Saudi boycott? It may not last

“In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it - in conjunction with me - up to Congress,” Trump said, adding he would like a bipartisan recommendation.

CIA Director Gina Haspel, in Turkey to investigate the death of Khashoggi, sought to hear the purported audio recording of his torture and murder, four sources familiar with her mission told Reuters.

A host of Western executives and governments pulled out of a high-profile Saudi investment summit because of the Khashoggi affair.

Erdogan said the killing was planned from when Khashoggi (59) first went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on September 28 to obtain documents necessary for his marriage. He was told he would need to return to collect them.

A day before Khashoggi’s death, agents arrived from overseas and scouted locations, including the Belgrad Forest near Istanbul and the city Yalova to its south, Erdogan said. Police searched both areas for evidence of Khashoggi’s remains, Reuters reported.

On the day Khashoggi arrived for his appointment and was killed, the hard disk in the consulate’s camera system was removed, Erdogan said.

“Covering up a savage murder like this will only hurt the human conscience. We expect the same sensitivity from all parties, primarily the Saudi Arabian leadership,” he said.

“We have strong signs the murder was the result of a planned operation, not a spontaneous development.”

 

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