U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday embraced international concerns that the Saudi journalist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was murdered after he entered the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul on October 2, saying that the crime will meet “very severe” consequences if it is confirmed.
Speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base over the possible gruesome death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who has gone missing for two weeks, Trump said: “It certainly looks that way to me.” “It is sad,” he added.
It is the first time Trump is siding with reporters and Turkish investigators’ stance that the U.S. resident and contributor for The Washington Post is likely to have been slain and dismembered after he entered his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.
Trump, since the outbreak of the scandal has appeared not to be tough on Saudi Arabia which Turkish investigators, rights groups and journalist organizations believe to have masterminded Khashoggi’s disappearance after Turkish media, close to the Turkish state, published photos of a five-man hit squad team whose members are known as security aids of Mohamed bin Salman.
The men, according to the Turkish investigation team, entered the consulate few hours before the dissident journalist stepped in, leaving his Turkish fiancée outside the compound.
Tuesday, Turkish Sabah Daily mentioned Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a Saudi security official who had been spotted in the entourage of the Saudi Crown Prince during several of his international trips including his recent highly promoted trip to the U.S.
Mutreb is believed to be the hit squad leader. He reportedly walked into the consulate at 9:55 a.m. with several men, just few hours before Khashoggi arrived at the mission at 1pm local time.
Closed-circuit TV footage according to the media showed Mutreb outside the consul’s residence, then later at the hotel near the Saudi mission where he stayed after arriving in Turkey. He was later seen with a “large suitcase” and finally at the airport in the early evening.
Trump on Wednesday denied he was giving any cover for its most important Gulf ally after he said the world should exercise caution despite mounting evidences.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who met with the Saudi Crown Prince and Turkish top authorities early this week, briefed Trump on Thursday and told reporters that the U.S. would give ally Saudi Arabia “a few more days” to probe Khashoggi’s alleged murder.
“I told President Trump this morning we ought to give them a few more days to complete that, so that we too have a complete understanding of the facts,” he said.
The US top diplomat said the White House will only state its position whether to apply sanctions at the end of the ongoing investigation, in which, he said, Riyadh promised collaboration.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, joined key European partners, western bankers and media firms in pulling out of a major economic forum in Riyadh, the Future Investment Initiative (FII), nicknamed Davos in the desert, in response to the alleged murder of the Saudi journalist.