Furious senators hit out at President for accepting Saudi story

‘The United States must not be complicit in this cover-up’: Furious senators, including Trump ally Lindsey Graham, hit out at President for accepting Saudi story

  • Saudi Arabia has finally admitted journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead
  • Saudi said in statement that Khashoggi died after a fight at the consulate
  • 18 suspects – all Saudi nationals – have been held in connection with the case 
  • Saudi Arabia fired the deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, the royal court adviser regarded as very close to the Crown Prince
  • Saudi official said Friday the prince had no knowledge of details in the Khashoggi case and ‘certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody’ 
  • President Trump said explanation for Khashoggi’s killing is credible
  • Republican Senator Lindsey Graham slammed the Kingdom’s changing story
  • Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said explanation ‘defies credibility’
  • Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, called the Saudi statement a cover-up
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Members of Congress have slammed Saudi Arabia’s explanation that journalist Jamal Khashoggi died during a fight at the consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

‘To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,’ Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said on Twitter. 

Graham, who has been sharply critical of Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s disappearance, is a close ally of President Donald Trump.

‘First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince,’ Graham said.

‘It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation’ as credible,’ he added.

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President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Arizona on Friday

Saudi Arabia has finally admitted journalist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured) is dead. He died on October 2 at the country’s consulate in Turkey

Saudi Arabia finally admitted on Friday that Khashoggi is dead after offering various explanations for his disappearance more than two weeks ago.

The country said it carried out its own investigation into what happened to the 59-year-old at its own consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and claimed Friday evening he died following an altercation on October 2. 

US President Donald Trump said Friday he found Saudi Arabia’s explanation about the death of Khashoggi credible and termed it an ‘important first step’.

Trump added if the US takes action, he does not want it to impact arms sales to the kingdom.

‘I do, I do,’ Trump said when asked if he found the Saudis’ explanation credible, adding: ‘It’s early, we haven’t finished our review or investigation, but… I think it’s a very important first step.’

‘I would prefer, if there is going to be some form of sanction or what we may determine to do, if anything… that we don’t use as retribution canceling $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs,’ he said during a visit to Arizona, referring to a major arms deal with the kingdom. 

‘To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,’ Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said on Twitter

The White House added it is ‘saddened’ by the confirmed death of the Saudi journalist. 

‘The United States acknowledges the announcement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that its investigation into the fate of Jamal Khasshoggi is progressing and that it has taken action against the suspects it has identified thus far,’ Press Secretary Sarah Sanders wrote in a statement.

‘We will continue to follow international investigations into this tragic incident and advocate for justice that is timely, transparent and in accordance with all due process.

‘We offer our deepest condolences to his family, fiancee and friends.’  

Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal told CNN the Saudi explanation ‘absolutely defies credibility’ and he called for an international investigation of Khashoggi´s death.

‘The Saudis very clearly seem to be buying time and buying cover. But this action raises more questions than it answers and there is no way the world will wait for 30 days for a Saudi investigation to be done,’ Blumenthal said.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, called the Saudi statement a cover-up.

‘The United States must not be complicit in this cover-up. Looking forward to what our intelligence agencies have to say,’ Van Hollen said. 

‘The Saudi ‘explanation’ for murdering journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi in a consulate – a fistfight gone wrong – is insulting,’ tweeted Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee. ‘Since the Trump Administration won’t stand up against atrocity, Congress must.’

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said Saudi Arabia’s claim that Khashoggi died in a brawl wasn’t credible.

‘The claim that Khashoggi was killed while brawling with 15 men dispatched from Saudi Arabia is not at all credible. If he was fighting with those sent to capture or kill him, it was for his life,’ said Schiff, the ranking member of the House intelligence committee.

‘The Kingdom must be held to account. If Administration doesn’t lead, Congress must,’ Schiff said.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said he doubted the credibility of the Saudi authorities, who insisted for weeks that he left the consulate.

‘The story the Saudis have told about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance continues to change with each passing day, so we should not assume their latest story holds water,’ he tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said the Saudi explanation ‘absolutely defies credibility’ and he called for an international investigation of Khashoggi´s death

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, called the Saudi statement a cover-up

Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States should pursue sanctions against Saudis involved in Khashoggi’s death under a US law named after Sergei Magnitsky, the anti-corruption Russian accountant who died in custody.

‘The Global Magnitsky Act doesn’t have exceptions for accidents. Even if Khashoggi died because of an altercation, that’s no excuse for his murder,’ Menendez tweeted.

‘This is far from the end and we need to keep up the international pressure.’ 

Representative Mike Coffman, one of a number of lawmakers from Trump’s Republican Party facing a tough race in November 6 elections, said the United States ‘must stand up for our values and demand our ‘allies’ respect human rights.’

The Colorado lawmaker, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, urged Trump to immediately recall the acting US ambassador from Saudi Arabia. Trump has yet to nominate a permanent envoy to the kingdom.

Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul tweeted: ‘We should… halt all military sales, aid and cooperation immediately. There must be a severe price for these actions by Saudi Arabia.’ 

A statement released by the Saudis on Friday, said the suspects got into a fight with Khashoggi, which lead to his death. 

‘While the investigations are still ongoing into the case with the 18 Saudi detainees, the Kingdom expresses its deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place,’ it added.

Saudi Arabia thanked Turkey for its ‘exceptional cooperation’ in the investigation. It added that it values Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s cooperation in investigating the case.

Saudi Arabia claims the suspects went to Istanbul to meet with Khashoggi over the possibility of him returning to the country. He was trying to obtain documents for a marriage license at the consulate.

His death occurred after a heated discussion turned into a quarrel and then a fist fight, they allege.

The vague statement has not explained exactly how he died, but the suspects then apparently tried to cover it up.

A Saudi official told Reuters it was unclear where the body was after it was handed over to a ‘local cooperator’ but there was no sign of it at the consulate.

Saudi has not yet named any of their suspects. 

Top intelligence officer General Ahmed al-Assiri (left) was fired in connection with Jamal Khashoggi’s death. Saud al-Qahtani, the royal court adviser (right) was also ousted after the country’s own investigation

Saudi Arabia’s statement on Jamal Khashoggi in full

The case of the disappearance of the citizen Jamal bin Ahmed Khashoggi drew the attention of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the highest levels, and due to the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, the Kingdom took the necessary procedures to clarify the truth and began by dispatching a security team to Turkey on 6 October 2018 to investigate and cooperate with counterparts in Turkey.

That was followed by the formation of a joint security team between the Kingdom and the Republic of Turkey, with a permission given to the Turkish security authorities to enter the Consulate of the Kingdom in Istanbul and the residence of the Consul, for the Kingdom’s keenness to clarify all the facts, as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has issued an order to the Public Prosecutor of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, No. 5709 dated 3/2/1440 H to conduct investigations into the case.

The Public Prosecutor has already investigated a number of suspects on the basis of information provided by the Turkish authorities to the Joint Security Team to determine whether any of them had any information or relation to what has been happened related where the information that transferred to the security authorities indicated that the citizen Jamal Khashoggi had left the consulate.

In implementation to the directives of the leadership of the need to clearly know the truth and declare it transparently whatever, the preliminary investigations conducted by the Public Prosecution showed that the suspect had traveled to Istanbul to meet with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi as there were indications of the possibility of his returning back to the country.

The results of the preliminary investigations also revealed that the discussions that took place with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the consulate of the Kingdom in Istanbul by the suspects did not go as required and developed in a negative way led to a fight and a quarrel between some of them and the citizen Jamal Khashoggi, yet the brawl aggravated to lead to his death and their attempt to conceal and cover what happened.

The source added that while the investigations are still ongoing into the case with the 18 Saudi detainees, the Kingdom expresses its deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place and stresses the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the public opinion, to hold all those involved accountable and bring them to justice by referring them to the competent courts in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  

However Saud al-Qahtani, the royal court adviser, has been ousted after the country’s own investigation. 

Mohamed bin Saleh al Rumeh, assistant to the president of general intelligence for intelligence affairs, Abduallah bin Khalifa al Shaya, assistant to the president of general intelligence for human resources ,and Rachad bin Hamed al Muhamadi, director of the general department for security and protection in the command of general intelligence, were also dismissed.

Deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Assiri was fired and his Twitter account posted a message in Arabic Friday night.

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The user posted (rough translation): ‘I extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to His Holiness the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and His Highness the Crown Prince, for the great confidence they have placed in me and for this great opportunity to honor my national service over the past years … 

‘I will remain a faithful servant of my country for a long time, and our dear homeland will remain lofty, God willing.’

It’s not clear whether Assiri posted it himself or whether someone else did so on his behalf.

The White House added it is ‘saddened’ by the confirmed death of the Saudi journalist

Saudi Arabia’s conflicting statements

Since Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, Saudi Arabia has changed its story multiple times.

On October 3, the day after he went missing, officials told Reuters the journalist had visited the consulate and then left.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud was interviewed by Bloomberg on the same day and said no one knew what happened to Khashoggi.

He said: ‘We hear the rumors about what happened. He’s a Saudi citizen and we are very keen to know what happened to him. And we will continue our dialogue with the Turkish government to see what happened to Jamal there.’

On October 4, a statement from the consulate said it was ‘carrying out follow-up procedures and coordination with the Turkish local authorities to uncover the circumstances of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after he left the consulate building.’

On October 7, Saudi officials slammed a Reuters report which claimed the journalist was killed and 15 Saudis flew to Turkey and visited the consulate on the day Khashoggi went missing. The officials called them ‘baseless allegations’.

On October 9, Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, said claims Khashoggi had been murdered in the consulate were ‘absolutely false, and baseless’.

He said: ‘Jamal has many friends in the Kingdom, including myself, and despite our differences, and his choice to go into his so called “self-exile”, we still maintained regular contact when he was in Washington.’

The crown prince and the king told Donald Trump they knew nothing about the disappearance, the president said in an interview with the AP on October 16.

On October 19, Saudi Arabia admitted Khashoggi had died during a fight at the consulate.

The New York Times previously said it had spoken to three people with knowledge of the Saudi plans relating to General Assiri, who had earlier served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen before being promoted to his current job in intelligence.

Two of the sources said Saudi rulers are set to explain that Assiri had been given verbal permission from the Crown Prince to capture Khashoggi for questioning in Saudi Arabia but that he either overstepped the authorization or misunderstood his orders. 

According to CBS News Assiri was very close to the country’s crown prince.

‘You don’t get much closer,’ a source told Kylie Atwood. 

The country is to restructure its intelligence agencies after the killing of Khashoggi, under King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud’s orders.

Salman – who is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Al-al-Haram (in Mecca) and Al-an-Nabawi (in Medina) – ordered that a ministerial committee is formed to restructure the General Intelligence Presidency, modernize its regulations and define its powers. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was a resolution concerning the journalist’s death and is an extension of the Kingdom’s commitment to consolidating justice.

However the mission is said to be led by his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was suspected of being behind Khashoggi’s disappearance in some versions of stories alleging what happened to the Washington Post writer.

A Saudi official said Friday the prince had no knowledge of details in the Khashoggi case.

‘There were no orders for them to kill him or even specifically kidnap him,’ said the official to Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity and adding that there was a standing order to bring critics of the kingdom back to the country.

‘MbS had no knowledge of this specific operation and certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody. He will have been aware of the general instruction to tell people to come back.’ 

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

The country is to restructure its intelligence agencies after the killing of Khashoggi, under King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud’s orders

However the mission is said to be led by his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was suspected of being behind Khashoggi’s disappearance in some reports

The former head of MI6,Sir John Sawers (pictured) has said evidence suggests Saudi’s Crown Prince ordered the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

But former British spy Sir John Sawers said earlier on Friday to BBC Radio 4 show, World at One: ‘All the evidence points to it being ordered and carried out by people close to Mohammed bin Salman. 

‘I don’t think he would have done this if he hadn’t thought he had licence from the US administration to behave as he wished.’  

Sawers, who headed MI6 between 2009 and 2014, said he had based his assessment on conversations with sources in Whitehall coupled with his understanding of Turkey’s intelligence services.   

It had been earlier reported that King Salman was personally intervening in the Khashoggi case after being kept in the dark about the crisis by his powerful son’s aides.

Initially the king, who has handed the day-to-day running of Saudi Arabia to his son, commonly known as MbS, was unaware of the extent of the crisis, according to two of the sources with knowledge of the Saudi royal court. That was partly because MbS aides had been directing the king to glowing news about the country on Saudi TV channels, the sources said. 

Since he acceded to the throne in January 2015, the king has given MbS, his favorite son, increasing authority to run Saudi Arabia. But the king’s latest intervention reflects growing disquiet among some members of the royal court about MbS’s fitness to govern, five sources said.

MbS, 33, has implemented a series of high-profile social and economic reforms since his father’s accession, including ending a ban on women driving and opening cinemas in the conservative kingdom.

15 suspects identified by Turkey 

Prior to the confirmation Jamal Khashoggi had died, Turkish police announced they were hunting fifteen Saudi suspects in connection with his disappearance. 

It is not known whether these 15 people are among the 18 arrested by the Saudis.

Turkish newspaper Sabah released CCTV images of a group of men who flew into Istanbul on the day Khashoggi went missing after walking into the Saudi consulate.

They were pictured arriving at Ataturk airport’s border control having flown into Turkey in two private jets from the Saudi capital Riyadh. 

Meshal Saad M Albostani (left), Salah Muhammad A Tubaigy (center), and Muhammed Saad H. Alzahrani (right), all flew in and out of Ataturk airport on the day Khashoggi disappeared

Saif Saad Q Alqahtani (left) and Mustafa Muhammed M. Almadani (right) are also being sought for questioning in connection with the incident last week

Naif Hassan S. Alarifi (left) Turki Musharraf M. Alsehri (center) and Khaled Aedh G. Altaibi (right) were also named by Turkish newspaper Sabah

Waleed Abdullah M. Alsehri (left) and Abdulaziz Muhammed M. Alhawsawi (right) are also wanted for questioning over the disappearance

The group of men identified by Sabah included Salah Muhammad A Tubaigy, 47, the head of the Saudi Forensic Medicine Institute.

An expert on forensic evidence, he is known to have trained a large number of police officers in crime scene investigation.

Another man, Muhammed Saad H. al-Zahrani, was revealed to have served as one of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s royal guards – a unit nicknamed the ‘rough swords’.

Mugshots of the middle-aged men were released alongside details of their ages and travel itineraries.

Maher Abdulaziz M. Mutreb (left) Fahad Shabib A. Albalawi (center) and Thaar Ghaleb T. Alharbi were also part of the group who flew into Ataturk airport

Mansur Othman M. Abahüseyin and Badr Lafi M. Alotaibi passed through border control on Tuesday last week

Turkish television also revealed CCTV footage of them arriving at Istanbul airport and making their way through the streets of the city around the embassy.

The men arrived at the embassy half an hour before Khashoggi turned up for his appointment. 

Saudi officials denied reports they sent a 15-man team to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi disappeared, saying that the only team they sent to Turkey consisted of investigators who arrived Saturday to help find the journalist. 

But he has also marginalized senior members of the royal family and consolidated control over Saudi’s security and intelligence agencies.

His reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, a purge of top royals and businessmen on corruption charges, and a costly war in Yemen.

Khashoggi had been missing 17 days after entering the consulate to obtain documents for his upcoming wedding. His partner Hatice Cengiz waited outside for hours but never saw him again after he walked in at 1.14pm.

Khashoggi was a critic of Saudi Crown Prince.

The comments from Saudi on Friday evening marked the first time since Khashoggi went missing that the Saudis admitted to his death.

Turkish officials had said they believed he was killed in the building. Saudi Arabia had previously denied the allegations and said Khashoggi had left the building shortly after.

Before the Saudi announcements, President Trump said he might consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia over the disappearance, while emphasizing the importance of the US-Saudi relationship.

His son Eric Trump said Thursday on Fox News’ Outnumbered: ‘Saudi Arabia has actually been a friend to the US in many ways. They’re ordering from us, massive, massive orders. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of arms that will create tens and tens of thousands of jobs. 

‘So what are you going to do? You’re going to take that and you’re going to throw all of that away?’

In Istanbul, Turkish prosecutors investigating Khashoggi’s disappearance questioned Turkish employees of the Saudi consulate Friday, widening the hunt for clues in a case straining Riyadh’s alliance with Western powers.

Turkish police had searched a forest on Istanbul’s outskirts and a city near the Sea of Marmara for Khashoggi’s remains

Turkish police searched a forest on Istanbul’s outskirts and a city near the Sea of Marmara for Khashoggi’s remains, two senior Turkish officials told Reuters, after tracking the routes of cars that left the consulate and the consul’s residence on the day he vanished.

Investigators have recovered samples from searches of both buildings to analyze for traces of Khashoggi’s DNA. 

Turkey denies giving ‘any kind of audio tape’ on Khashoggi to US 

Turkey on Friday denied giving ‘any kind of audio tape’ from the investigation into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or any American official.

‘It is out of the question for Turkey to give any kind of audio tape to Pompeo or any other US official,’ said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, two days after meeting with the US’s top diplomat for talks in Ankara.

Turkey’s pro-government press has reported that Turkey has an audio recording that proves the alleged murder of Khashoggi at the consulate and that he was tortured before his death.

The existence of the tape has never been confirmed on the record by Turkish officials.

ABC News, quoting a senior Turkish official, reported Thursday that during his visit to Turkey this week Pompeo heard this audio and was shown a transcript of the recording. But Pompeo denied the report.

‘I’ve seen no tape. I’ve seen no – or I’ve heard no tape. I’ve seen no transcript,’ he told reporters during a trip to Latin America.

Cavusoglu, like other Turkish officials, stopped short of revealing details of the investigation but vowed they would be shared in due course.

‘We will share the results to emerge with the entire world. It is out of the question for us to share this or that information with any country,’ he said, quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

President Trump, who said on Thursday he believed Khashoggi was likely dead and has warned of a potential ‘very severe’ response, has appeared unwilling to distance himself too much from the Saudis, citing Riyadh’s role in countering Iranian influence in the Middle East and lucrative potential arms deals.

‘Saudi Arabia has been a great ally, they’ve been a tremendous investor in the United States,’ Trump said, adding, ‘That’s why this is so sad.’

‘They agreed to spend $450 billion on buying in and investing in the United States, so I hope we can keep that open… There are plenty of other things we can do,’ he said, adding: ‘I might know a lot by Monday. I know a lot already.’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the White House Thursday that Saudi Arabia deserves a ‘few more days’ to get to the bottom of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.

Pompeo spoke after he briefed President Trump on his meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, where he warned the Saudi royal family they have 72 hours to finish the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Sources described a tough meeting between Pompeo and the crown prince, after smiling photos of the two men fed a narrative that the U.S. was willing to assist the Saudis in finding a cover for story for the killing. 

The Saudis assured him ‘they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi and that they’ll 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,’ Pompeo told reporters Thursday morning. 

‘And I told President Trump 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,’ he said. 

State-run Anadolu news agency said the Turkish prosecutor’s office had obtained testimony from 20 consulate employees, and 25 more people including foreign nationals would be questioned.

The consulate employees questioned included accountants, technicians and a driver, Anadolu said. The investigation is being conducted by the prosecutor’s terrorism and organized crime bureau, it added.

Turkey said it had not shared with any country audio recordings purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate, dismissing reports it had passed them to the United States.

All smiles: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Tuesday

‘We will share the results that emerge transparently with the whole world,’ Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak has published what it said were details from the audio, including that his torturers severed Khashoggi’s fingers during an interrogation and later beheaded and dismembered him. 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior ministers from France, Britain and the Netherlands have abandoned plans to attend an Oct. 23-25 investor conference in Riyadh.

On Friday, the CEOs of Deutsche Bank and ABB, plus Airbus’ defense chief and energy historian Daniel Yergin, joined a list of Western business executives who have withdrawn.

Pakistan’s prime minister and a delegation led by Russian Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev plan to participate. Britain’s BAE Systems is sending senior representatives.

A conference spokesperson confirmed the conference would proceed with an updated program that includes heads of state from the Arab world, Africa and Asia.

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