WASHINGTON — The State Department said today it’s still trying to sort out what happened to a missing Saudi journalist who had been living in exile in America for a year due to his high-profile criticism of the kingdom’s rulers.
A week ago, Jamal Khashoggi went inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get a document needed to get married. His fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, waited 11 hours for him outside, but he never came out.
In a shocking report Saturday, Reuters cited unnamed Turkish officials as saying Khashoggi had been murdered inside. “The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr. Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate,” one Turkish official told Reuters.
Further reports said that a group of 15 Saudis entered the consulate on the same day as Khashoggi and soon left the country, and that Khashoggi had been dismembered and smuggled out of Turkey in small boxes.
The Saudis claim Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, but also says their security cameras that could have captured the alleged exit weren’t working. They have also not shown that Khashoggi picked up the paperwork documenting his previous divorce.
Khashoggi is a Washington Post columnist and former general manager and editor-in-chief of Al Arab News Channel.
“If the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has evidence of such a horrific crime, it should immediately make it available to the family and other interested parties,” the Post wrote in a Monday editorial. “For more than a year before his disappearance, Mr. Khashoggi was a resident of the United States, which gives the Trump administration a basis and an obligation to demand answers and relevant evidence from both Saudi Arabia and Turkey. So far, senior U.S. administration officials have had little to say publicly on the matter, which is concerning. If Mr. Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate, it will cast the Saudi regime and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a new and disturbing light and require a thorough reevaluation of U.S.-Saudi relations. Better to know that sooner rather than later.”
Asked about the case while speaking with reporters outside the White House on Monday, Trump replied, “I am concerned about it. I don’t like hearing about it. And hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now, nobody knows anything about it, but there are some pretty bad stories going around. I do not like it.”
Some lawmakers tweeted over the weekend that they were concerned about the reports and contacting the State Department to find out the next course of action. “If this is true – that the Saudis lured a U.S. resident into their consulate and murdered him – it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement this morning that the U.S. has “seen conflicting reports on the safety and whereabouts of prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.”
“As the president has conveyed, the United States is concerned by his disappearance. State Department senior officials have spoken with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through diplomatic channels about this matter,” Pompeo said.
“We call on the government of Saudi Arabia to support a thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation,” he added.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday that the world body is “obviously following that case closely.”
“We have to wait until there is an end of an investigation, and then we’ll figure out — we’ll, obviously, say something once facts are established,” Dujarric said.