Khashoggi ‘certainly looks’ to be dead, says Trump
October 19 2018 12:28 AM
US President Donald Trump talks to reporters about journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance prior to boarding Air Force One for travel to Montana from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, US


* Mnuchin, European ministers lead list of more no-shows at Saudi conference
* Pompeo briefs Trump, suggests Saudi be given ‘few more days’
* Turkish investigators widen probe to include three different areas on outskirts of Istanbul
* Saudi consulate searched for second time
* Rights groups seek UN probe

US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he presumes journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead and that the US response to Saudi Arabia will likely be "very severe" but that he still wanted to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.

In Istanbul, Turkish investigators for a second time searched the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi - a US resident and Washington Post columnist who was a strong critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman - vanished on October 2, seeking clues about an incident that has caused an international outcry.

Trump acknowledged for the first time that Khashoggi had likely been killed.

"It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad," Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One on a political trip. He spoke hours after getting an update from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the results of the latter’s emergency talks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

In an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, Trump also expressed confidence in intelligence reports that suggest a high-level Saudi role in the suspected killing of Khashoggi. Trump said, however, it was still "a little bit early" to draw definitive conclusions about who may have been behind it.

Pompeo told reporters after his meeting that he advised Trump that Saudi Arabia should be given a few more days to complete its investigation into the Khashoggi disappearance.

"I told President Trump this morning we ought to give them a few more days to complete that, so that we too have a complete understanding of the facts," he said. Only then, Pompeo added, "we can make decisions how or if the United States should respond."

Turkish officials have said they believe the Saudi journalist was murdered at the consulate and his body chopped up and removed.

Trump said he was waiting for the results so that "we can get to the bottom of this very soon" and that he would be making a statement about it at some point.

Asked what would be the consequences for Saudi Arabia, Trump said: "Well, it'll have to be very severe. I mean, it's bad, bad stuff. But we'll see what happens."

Trump is under pressure, including from fellow Republicans in Congress, who have said the US must not let Saudi Arabia escape without punishment.

"Must not accept a strategic alliance with #SaudiArabia which requires our silence when they butcher a political critic," Republican Senator Marco Rubio wrote on Twitter. "We must: 1. Hold everyone responsible for #KashoggiMurder accountable; & 2. Be clear on what is expected moving forward if they want to preserve our alliance."

Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in the disappearance.

Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior ministers from Europe on Thursday pulled out of an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, deepening the kingdom's isolation amid an uproar over the disappearance of Khashoggi.

Officials from some of Saudi Arabia's leading Western allies joined a slew of corporate bigwigs who are now shunning next week's gathering, touted as a high-powered showcase for the economic reforms of Crown Prince Mohamed.

In an announcement that sent stocks tumbling on Wall Street, Mnuchin said he had decided with Trump that he would "not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia".

The decision was given in a terse tweet after Trump and Mnuchin were briefed by Pompeo.

Mnuchin gave no explanation. But Britain and France - which like the United States are leading suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia - made clear their disquiet over Khashoggi's fate as they yanked their own representation at the Riyadh conference.

"We have taken this decision in a co-ordinated manner among Europeans," President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels.

"It is what's required in the short term, taking account of the gravity of the facts, in the absence of (Saudi) clarification," he said, after French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire confirmed he was staying away from Riyadh.

The Sabah newspaper published photographs of a man, identified as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, outside the Saudi consulate building in Istanbul on the morning Khashoggi disappeared. Image courtesy of Al Jazeera

British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said "the time is not right" to go to the Saudi capital for the October 23-25 conference, dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert’.

"The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance," a British government spokesperson said in a statement, insisting that the Saudis abide by their pledge to carry out a full and transparent investigation. "Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account."

The Netherlands said Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra was no longer going to the conference, and that it was also canceling a planned trade mission to Saudi in December.

Working with the EU and other partners, the Dutch government would "look at ways international concerns about Khashoggi could be addressed", Foreign Minister Stef Blok said.

Joining a host of media companies to drop out of the conference, Fox Business Network on Thursday said it was withdrawing as a sponsor of the Saudi conference.

Also, Goldman Sachs Group Inc CEO David Solomon said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday that the company will not send any of its executives to the Saudi event.

A number of top bankers and business leaders, including JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, have already decided not to attend the high-profile event. International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, too, has pulled out.

Solomon said he had not planned to attend and the bank was not sending any senior executives. He said Dina Powell, a Goldman executive who rejoined the bank earlier this year after serving as an adviser to Trump, had initially planned to attend but would not.

"This incident is unacceptable and clearly they have to answer questions specifically regarding this incident," Solomon said. "How they answer those questions and how more information becomes apparent will have an impact on how we all interact."

Meanwhile, Turkish investigators left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul early Thursday after searching the building and consular vehicles, a Reuters witness said. They used bright lights to illuminate the garden. Earlier, they spent nearly nine hours in the Saudi consul's residence along with Saudi investigators.

The Turkish search, which used a drone, included the roof and garage.

Neither Turkey nor the US has publicly confirmed that Khashoggi is dead or said officially that Riyadh is to blame.

But a steady stream of unconfirmed leaks from officials to Turkish media have painted a detailed and horrifying picture of Khashoggi's last minutes, allegedly at the hands of 15 Saudi agents waiting for him when he came to the consulate for paperwork.

The Sabah newspaper published a series of photographs of a man it identified as someone who travels with the Saudi crown prince. The time-stamped photos identified asthe man - Saudi security official Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb - outside the Saudi consulate building in Istanbul on the morning Khashoggi disappeared, Sabah said on Thursday.

The newspaper said was the leader of the operation.

"Here is the head of the execution team," said Sabah's headline, and the paper then detailed Mutreb's movements on the day Khashoggi went missing.

Giving precise times based on CCTV footage, the newspaper reported that Mutreb went into the consulate more than three hours before Khashoggi entered the building.

In a series of CCTV images, Mutreb was then seen outside the consul's residence, then later at his hotel near the Saudi mission with a "large suitcase," and finally at the airport in the early evening.

On Wednesday, Yeni Safak newspaper claimed it had heard audio tapes in which Khashoggi's alleged killers tortured him by cutting his fingers off before his decapitation.

Turkish investigators also widened their probe into Khashoggi's disappearance to include three different areas on the outskirts of Istanbul, officials told Al Jazeera.

"Investigators tracked the vehicles that left the Saudi consulate and consul general's residence on the day Khashoggi disappeared to these areas. They used traffic cameras to do that," Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal said, citing sources at the Turkish prosecutor's office.

One area investigators are searching was a forest called Belgrad, roughly 16km from Istanbul's city centre, Elshayyal said, while the other was farmland in Turkey's Yalova province, about 93km east of the city.

Khashoggi had gone to the consulate seeking documents for his planned upcoming marriage and has not been seen since.

In another development, four Western rights groups - Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders - urged Turkey to ask the United Nations to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance.

"UN involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh," said Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow did not have enough information about Khashoggi's disappearance to justify harming ties with Riyadh. His government will wait for details, Putin told a forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

A US government source said that U.S. intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced of the crown prince's culpability in the operation against Khashoggi, which they believe resulted in his death.

With inputs from Al Jazeera

Last updated: October 19 2018 12:33 AM

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