Jamal Khashoggi: Trump says if anyone knew about plot to kill journalist 'it would be Mohammed bin Salman'

Heir to Saudi throne has repeatedly denied involvement in killing of columnist at Istanbul consulate

Tom Barnes
Wednesday 24 October 2018 13:27 BST
Donald Trump: Jamal Khashoggi death 'the worst cover up ever'

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Donald Trump believes Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman likely knew of the plot to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi, claiming: “if anyone were going to be, it would be him,” when asked whether the country's de facto leader was possibly involved.

The president’s statements came as Riyadh admitted it sent a team of 15 officials to its Istanbul consulate, including a forensics expert and a body double for the Washington Post columnist, while still insisting the death was accidental.

Crown Prince Mohammed, who has assumed many of the duties of his elderly father King Salman, is due to address the Saudi-organised Future Investment Initiative summit on Wednesday.

The prince has repeatedly denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death and Saudi Arabia has moved to distance its heir to the throne from the affair, blaming the killing on rogue operators.

However, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr Trump said he remained unconvinced of the Saudi version of events and believed the crown prince had at least been aware of the plan.

“Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage,” the president said. “He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”

Asked earlier that day about the Saudi response to Khashoggi’s death, Mr Trump described it as: “one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.”

Shortly after Mr Trump's remarks, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced the United States had revoked the visas of several Saudi officials implicated in the killing.

Mr Pompeo said individuals targeted included members of the “intelligence services, the royal court, the foreign ministry and other Saudi ministries,” without elaborating further.

Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime and the Crown Prince in particular, was killed after walking into the Saudi consulate on 2 October seeking documents for his upcoming marriage.

Turkish officials suspect the journalist was tortured and murdered inside the building, before his body was dismembered and possibly dumped in a forest.

Surveillance footage also appears to show a decoy dressed in Khashoggi’s clothing leaving the consulate, in an apparent attempt by his killers to cover their tracks.

Saudi Arabia has arrested 18 people in connection with the killing and dismissed two senior officials – one a close aide to the Crown Prince.

However, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Tuesday for all suspects currently detained over Khashoggi’s death to face trial in Turkey.

During a speech in parliament on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan urged Saudi authorities to hand over the individuals responsible, no matter their rank, for what he described as a “savage murder”.

He also demanded Riyadh reveal the identity of a “local collaborator”, who Turkish officials believe helped take Khashoggi’s body from the consulate and dispose of it.

“All those from the highest level to the lowest level will be highlighted, and will get the punishment they deserve,” Mr Erdogan said.

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On Tuesday, the first day of the Future Investment Initiative, an international trade conference in Riyadh devised by the Crown Prince in a bid to boost Saudi prestige, was overshadowed by the Khashoggi case.

Billed as “Davos in the Desert”, the event had been due to welcome a host of dignitaries, including UK international trade secretary Liam Fox, US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin and Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi.

However, all three, as well as many others previously expected to be in attendance, have chosen to stay away given the current situation.

Opening the summit, Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih described Khashoggi’s death as “abhorrent”, admitting “these are difficult days for us in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

“Nobody in the kingdom can justify it or explain it. From the leadership on down, we're very upset at what has happened,” he said.

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