Trump, Europeans call Saudi account of Khashoggi death incomplete
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump joined European leaders 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 early 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 US 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 US 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.”
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.
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.
Turkish investigators are likely to find out what happened to the body “before long”, a senior Turkish official said earlier .
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.
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 Arabia had until now strenuously denied that Khashoggi had died in the consulate.
But the Saudi public prosecutor said 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 Arabia’s regional allies including Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates issued statements in praise of the king.
A Saudi official familiar with the Saudi investigation said the crown prince had no knowledge of the specific operation that resulted in Khashoggi’s death,
“There were no orders for them to kill him or even specifically kidnap him,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.