Pres. Trump says looks like Khashoggi dead, threatens consequences

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ISTANBUL (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday it "certainly looks" as though Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and he threatened "very severe" consequences if the Saudis are found to have murdered him.

Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, author and the former general manager and editor-in-chief of Al Arab News Channel, Photo Date: Undated / Photo: Jamal Khashoggi / (MGN)

Click here to read live updates of the investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance

As the U.S. toughened its response to Khashoggi's disappearance, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled out of a major Saudi investment conference Thursday amid global pressure. However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said the kingdom should be given more time to investigate before the U.S. lays any blame or considers action.

Trump, who has insisted that more facts must be known before making assumptions about Khashoggi, did not say on what he based his statement on the writer's demise two weeks ago. He commented as he left Joint Base Andrews for a political trip to Montana.

Asked if Khashoggi was dead, he said, "It certainly looks that way. ... Very sad."

While Turkish officials have accused Saudi Arabia of the murder in Istanbul of Khashoggi, a U.S.-based writer who has been critical of Saudi leaders, Trump has cautioned against a rush to judgment against an important Mideast ally. And Pompeo, just back from talks with Saudi and Turkish leaders, said earlier Thursday that the U.S. needed more facts before deciding "how, or if" to respond.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced, "We have decided I will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia." The Saudis had hoped to use the forum, billed as "Davos in the Desert" to boost their global image, but a number of European finance ministers and many top business executives have pulled out as international pressure on Riyadh has intensified over Khashoggi.

Turkish reports say Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate by members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have dismissed those reports as baseless but have yet to explain what happened to Khashoggi, who was seen on video entering the consulate but has not been seen since.

Trump has rejected talk that his reluctance to act is providing cover for the Saudis. And a senior U.S. official said Pompeo had warned the Saudi crown prince that his credibility as a future leader was at stake, reflecting the administration's concern about how the case could affect relations.

Pompeo, who returned late Wednesday from an emergency visit to Riyadh and Ankara to impress on senior officials in both nations the need for a credible investigation, said:

"I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make decisions about how, or if, the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi."

Pompeo declined to comment on what the U.S. believes might have happened to Khashoggi but made clear Washington takes the situation "very seriously." He said that Saudi leaders, including the crown prince, "assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi, and that they will do so in a timely fashion, and that this report itself will be transparent for everyone to see, to ask questions about, and to inquire with respect to its thoroughness."

He cautioned, however, that whatever response the administration might decide on would take into account the importance of the long-standing U.S.-Saudi partnership. "They're an important strategic ally of the United States, and we need to be mindful of that," he said.

Although Pompeo suggested the U.S. could wait another several days for results of the Saudi investigation an official familiar with his meetings in Riyadh and Ankara said he had been blunt about the need to wrap the probe up quickly. U.S. lawmakers from both parties have expressed outrage over Khashoggi's disappearance and reports of his murder and have been calling for consequences, including possible sanctions against Saudi Arabia.

The official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the private meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo had told the crown prince that "time is short."

The official also said the Pompeo had warned Prince Mohammed that given the allegations it would be "very difficult for you to be a credible king" without a credible investigation into the case. The crown prince is next in line for the throne, which is held by his ailing, aged father King Salman.

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by: SUZAN FRASER, SARAH EL DEEB and JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press

ISTANBUL (AP) —

A member of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's entourage during several trips abroad walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul just before writer Jamal Khashoggi vanished there, a surveillance photo leaked Thursday shows, drawing the kingdom's heir-apparent closer to the columnist's alleged slaying.

The man, identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, has been photographed in the background of Prince Mohammed's trips to the U.S., France and Spain this year.

Turkish officials say he flew into Istanbul on a private jet along with an "autopsy expert" Oct. 2 and left that night. That was the same day Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who wrote critically of Prince Mohammed's rise to power, entered the consulate and was not seen again.

Saudi Arabia, which initially called the allegations "baseless," has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press over recent days, including on Thursday over Mutreb's identification. The AP could not immediately reach Mutreb for comment.

But Mutreb's appearance at the consulate, as well as later at the consul general's residence, adds to the growing pressure on Saudi Arabia amid international outrage over the disappearance of the writer, whom Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered.

In a further sign of that pressure, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he will not attend an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, as did senior government officials from France, Britain and the Netherlands. Several top business executives have also canceled plans to attend, as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

President Donald Trump, who first came out hard on the Saudis over the disappearance but had since has backed off, said Thursday that it "certainly looks" as though Khashoggi is dead, and that the consequences for the Saudis "will have to be very severe" if they are found to have killed him.

Analysts say that as long as the Saudis refuse to acknowledge what happened to Khashoggi, the leaks about the case will probably continue.

"Turkey wants to show to the world that it cannot be ignoble, selling values and principles in political deals with U.S. or Saudi to try to bury the truth and come up with an acceptable scenario," said Yusuf Katipoglu, a Turkish analyst.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper on Thursday first published the images of Mutreb, showing him walking past police barricades at the consulate at 9:55 a.m. with several men trailing behind him. Khashoggi arrived at the consulate several hours later at 1:14 p.m., then disappeared while his fiancée waited outside for him.

A report Wednesday by the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi's slaying, said a Saudi team immediately accosted the 60-year-old journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.

Previously leaked surveillance footage showed consular vehicles moving from the consulate to the consul general's official residence, some 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away, a little under two hours after Khashoggi walked inside. The Sabah-published pictured showed an image of the Mutreb at 4:53 p.m. at the consul's home, then at 5:15 p.m. checking out of a hotel. He later cleared an airport security check at 5:58 p.m. before flying out of Istanbul.

Mutreb's name matches that of a first secretary who once served as a diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in London, according to a 2007 list compiled by the British Foreign Office. The same name also appears in an email published by WikiLeaks from the 2015 breach of surveillance company Hacking Team of Saudi officials being trained to use their software. That breach showed how governments were increasingly turning to mercenary hackers-for-hire to pry into the cellphones and computers of their domestic opponents.

Mutreb's identity was confirmed by Turkish officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. Mutreb also was identified in state and pro-government media reports.

It's unclear what relationship Mutreb has with Prince Mohammed.

Images shot by the Houston Chronicle and later distributed by the AP show Mutreb in Prince Mohammed's entourage when he visited a Houston subdivision in April to see rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey. The same man wore lapel pins, including one of the U.S. and Saudi flags intertwined, that other bodyguards accompanying Prince Mohammed wore on the trip.

The three-week trip across the U.S. saw Prince Mohammed meet with business leaders and celebrities, including Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, who now owns the Post.

Mutreb also has appeared in images on Prince Mohammed's trips to Boston, as well as Spain and France.

The Sabah report came as Turkish crime-scene investigators finished an overnight search of both the consul general's residence and a second search of the consulate itself. Authorities have not said specifically what they found, although technicians carried out bags and boxes from the consul general's home. He left Turkey on Tuesday.

The searches and the leaks in Turkish media have ensured attention remains focused on what happened to Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who went into a self-imposed exile in the U.S. after the rise of Prince Mohammed. It also put further strains on the relationship between the kingdom, the world's largest oil exporter, and its main security guarantor, the U.S., as tensions with Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East remain high.

After briefing Trump on Thursday on his talks this week with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he told the Saudi rulers that the U.S. takes "very seriously" the disappearance of Khashoggi and will await the outcome of investigations by the kingdom and Turkey before deciding how to respond.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders jointly called for a U.N. investigation of the Khashoggi disappearance.

"If the government of Saudi Arabia is not involved in Jamal Khashoggi's fate, it has the most to gain in seeing an impartial U.N. investigation determine what happened," said Sherine Tadros of Amnesty International. "Without a credible U.N. inquiry, there will always be a cloud of suspicion hanging over Saudi Arabia, no matter what its leadership says to explain away how Khashoggi vanished."

The Post published Thursday what it described as Khashoggi's last column, in which he pointed to the muted international response to ongoing abuses against journalists by governments in the Middle East.

"As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate," Khashoggi wrote. He added: "The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power."

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.



 
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