Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denied reports that he listened to an audio recording of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi’s torture and murder.
State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday that Pompeo ‘has neither heard a tape nor has he seen a transcript related to Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.’
Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian citizen with U.S. residency, disappeared on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork needed to marry his fiancee.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) during their meeting at Ankara Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey on Wednesay
Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian citizen with U.S. residency, disappeared on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork needed to marry his fiancee
It is widely believed that Khashoggi was brutally tortured and murdered inside the consulate, with the Turkish government investigating an alleged ‘hit squad’ of 15 Saudi security men who entered and exited Istanbul on private jets.
President Donald Trump said on Thursday he presumes Khashoggi is dead and that the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia will likely be ‘very severe’ but that he still wanted to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.
‘It certainly looks that way to me. It’s very sad,’ Trump said when asked if he believed Khashoggi is dead, before boarding Air Force One to depart for a rally in Montana.
In an interview with the New York Times, Trump based his acknowledgment that Khashoggi was dead on intelligence reports.
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.’
Turkey believes that Khashoggi, 59, was murdered inside the consulate while his fiancee waited outside, never to see him again. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has close ties to some of the alleged hit men, has denied the allegation.
Jamal Kashoggi is seen with his finacee Hatice Cengiz, who stood outside the consulate waiting for hours after he walked inside on October 2, never to emerge
Chilling accounts of an audio recording of Khashoggi being tortured and killed have circulated in recent days.
Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak on Wednesday cited what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying, which it said showed the writer was tortured.
The newspaper said Saudi Consul General Mohammed al-Otaibi could be heard on the tape, telling those allegedly torturing Khashoggi: ‘Do this outside; you’re going to get me in trouble.’
The newspaper said one of the Saudis torturing Khashoggi replied: ‘Shut up if you want to live when you return to (Saudi) Arabia.’
The audio also reveals that Khashoggi’s fingers were cut off during an interrogation before he was beheaded and dismembered, according to the reports.
Turkish officials reportedly possess the tapes, but it remains unclear if they have shared them with any U.S. officials after Pompeo’s denials on Thursday.
Pompeo was back in Washington on Thursday, after a whirlwind trip to Riyadh and Ankara in an attempt to defuse the mounting international crisis over Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Pompeo delivers remarks to reporters following a meeting with Trump about missing Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the White House on Thursday
A man holds Yeni Safak newspaper in a cafe with a headline that reads ‘This is how Khashoggi was slaughtered’ in Ankara, Turkey on Wednesday. The outlet says it has audio of his death
Pompeo told reporters in a press conference outside the White House that he advised Trump that Saudi Arabia should be given a few more days to complete its investigation into the disappearance.
‘I think it’s important for us all to remember, too – we have a long, since 1932, a long strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,’ Pompeo told reporters, also calling Saudi Arabia ‘an important counterterrorism partner.’
The U.S. has long relied on Saudi Arabia as a regional counterbalance to Iran, overlooking a track record of human rights abuses in the kingdom, as well as ongoing bombing in civilian areas of Yemen.
Meanwhile, some of the strongest circumstantial evidence yet linking Prince Mohammed to Khashoggi’s presumed torture and murder emerged on Thursday.
Multiple Turkish outlets reported that the prince’s close confidante Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb was caught on surveillance video entering the consulate just hours before Khashoggi arrived for his appointment.
Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence official, is reportedly high ranking in the elite Royal Guard that personally protects Prince Mohammed.
A man identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb walks toward the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul before writer Jamal Khashoggi disappeared on October 2
Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, reportedly now being sought by Turkish authorities for questioning over Khashoggi’s disappearance, can be seen in the background as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (front right) visits a Habitat for Humanity event in Houston in April
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (seen in file photo) denies any connection to Khashoggi’s apparent murder, despite close ties to alleged hit men at the embassy
On Wednesday, Turkish police conducted a new intensive eight-hour search of the consulate, combing for forensic clues to Khashoggi’s fate.
A team of dozens of police and prosecutors, including forensics experts in white overalls entered the residence of the consul, searching for clues with cadaver dogs and drones.
Saudi Consul General Mohammed al-Otaibi, who was at the consulate when the alleged assassination of Khashoggi took place, fled Turkey one day before the search was carried out.
It follows a search on Monday, in which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said that investigators found fresh paint and ‘toxic materials’ – potential signs of an attempted cover-up.
Turkish forensic police officers use a sniffer dog for investigation at the back yard of the residence of the Saudi consul Mohammed al-Otaibi in the early hours of Thursday
Investigators are seen carrying gear during the search of the consulate on Wednesday. The search lasted for eight hours and stretched past midnight
What may have happened to the body remains a mystery.
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, raised the alarm at about 5pm on October 2, about three hours after he entered the embassy.
Turkish officials rushed to inspect a private Saudi airplane before it could take off, and failed to find Khashoggi or his remains in the plane or luggage, sources told CNN.
According to local reports, Turkish police are searching an area of woodland outside Istanbul as well as a farm house across the Marmara Sea, in a grim hunt for the journalist’s remains.
Investigators are said to have collected CCTV images from the entrance to Belgrad Forest to the north of the city amid fears the body was dumped there.
After tracing the route of the convoy of cars which left the Saudi consulate on October 2, the search has moved to woodland near the city of Yalova, a 55-mile drive south of Istanbul.
Investigators are reportedly also preparing to ‘excavate’ a villa in Yalova province, where one of the vehicles linked to the Saudi ‘hit squad’ was seen, according to Turkish media.
Turkish police are searching Belgrad Forest (pictured) outside Istanbul in the hunt for missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to local reports
Investigators are said to have collected CCTV images from the entrance to Belgrad Forest to the north of the city amid fears the US-based Saudi writer’s body was dumped there
On Wednesday, the Washington Post published Khashoggi’s final column, a searing call for press freedom protections in the Middle East.
Post global opinion editor Karen Attiah received the column from Khashoggi’s assistant the day after he was reported missing, but had withheld if from publication until now in hopes of going through editing rounds with the writer.
‘Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post,’ Attiah wrote in note on the column.
Attiah continued: ‘This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for.’
Khashoggi’s final column is a straightforward call for greater press freedom in Arab countries – and a demand that the rest of the world hold the region’s governments accountable for attacks on journalists.
The writer warns: ‘Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.’
He cited as examples the five-year imprisonment of Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi for penning ‘comments contrary to the Saudi establishment’, and the Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper.
‘These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,’ Khashoggi wrote. ‘Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.’
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JAMAL KHASHOGGI: A TIMELINE
Here is a timeline of events in the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident, not seen since he entered the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
At 1.14pm (10.14amGMT) on October 2, Khashoggi is recorded entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a surveillance camera. The image is published by the Washington Post.
He was at the consulate to receive an official document for his upcoming marriage. His fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, accompanies him but waits outside.
On October 3 the Washington Post, for whom Khashoggi writes opinion pieces, raises the alarm, saying the journalist has not been seen since he entered the consulate.
His fiancee camps out near barricades in front of the Saudi consulate hoping for news.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tells a news conference: ‘According to information we have this individual… is still at the consulate as of now’.
The US State Department says it is investigating.
On October 4, after an initial period of silence, Saudi Arabia says Khashoggi disappeared ‘after he left the consulate building’.
The Saudi ambassador is summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tells Bloomberg that Khashoggi is not inside the consulate and ‘we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises,’ which is Saudi sovereign territory.
A government source says Turkish police believe Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate.
‘Based on their initial findings, the police believe that the journalist was killed by a team especially sent to Istanbul and who left the same day,’ the source tells AFP. Riyadh calls the claim ‘baseless’.
Turkey seeks permission to search Saudi Arabia’s consulate, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, commenting for the first time, says he will wait for the outcome of the investigation before taking a decision.
Erdogan asks Riyadh to ‘prove’ its claim that Khashoggi left its consulate.
US President Donald Trump says he is ‘concerned’. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls for a ‘thorough’ and ‘transparent’ probe by Washington’s ally Saudi Arabia into the disappearance.
Saudi Arabia agrees to let Turkish authorities search the consulate, the Turkish foreign ministry says.
Local media report on the possibility that Khashoggi was kidnapped and taken to Saudi Arabia.
English-language state broadcaster TRT World says Turkish officials believe the Saudis may have taken the consulate’s CCTV footage with them when they returned to the kingdom.
CCTV footage released by Turkish TV shows a van entering the consulate on October 2, before going to the nearby consul’s residence.
The Washington Post, citing US intelligence intercepts, says Saudi Arabia’s crown prince ordered an operation to trap Khashoggi.
The US State Department says it had not been tipped off about such an operation.
Trump calls for explanations from Saudi Arabia, saying he has talked ‘more than once’ and ‘at the highest levels’ to partners in Riyadh. He says he has been in contact with Khashoggi’s fiancee, who has asked for his help.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson suspends two directorships linked to tourism projects in Saudi Arabia.
Several prestigious partners cancel their planned attendance at the end of the month at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, a lavish conference dubbed the ‘Davos in the Desert’.
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Ford chairman Bill Ford are among those to pull out of the Riyadh event.
Turkish police investigators and prosecutors conduct an eight-hour overnight search of the Saudi consulate, taking away samples.
Trump says he received a strong denial from King Salman of any involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi.
‘It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?’ Trump tells reporters.
The next day, US top diplomat Mike Pompeo arrives in Riyadh for urgent talks with the king and crown prince.