The fingers of the missing Saudi Arabian journalist were pulled off as he was being tortured and his body was dismembered over a seven -minute period, pro-Turkish government newspapers claimed today.
The new details emerged as the global row intensified over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who had been critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the effective leader of the kingdom. Khashoggi has been missing since October 2 when he visited the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
The fresh leaks in the Turkish press this morning provide the strongest hints yet that Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered inside the consulate.
Meanwhile Yeni Safak, another newspaper close to the palace, claims to have obtained the audio recordings of Khashoggi’s killing.
Mr Pompeo met King Salman and the crown prince on a whirlwind trip to Riyadh yesterday, prior to flying to Turkey. For the cameras there were jovial smiles, despite the other graphic claims circulating in Turkish media that the crown prince ordered the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi.
Back in Washington Mr Trump said that the crown prince had promised a “full and complete investigation. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.”
Mr Trump criticised the rush to blame Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s disappearance. “Here we go again with your ‘guilty until proven innocent’,” Mr Trump said comparing the global outcry to sexual assault allegations levelled against Brett Kavanaugh when the judge was nominated to the Supreme Court.
Republican leaders in Washington made clear that they did not accept the alternative explanations put forward for Khashoggi’s disappearance. He would have been 60 on Saturday. Lindsey Graham, a US senator close to Mr Trump, said that the death ofThe Washington Post columnist could not have been ordered by anyone other than the crown prince, known popularly by his initials, MBS.
“Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing it,” he said in a Fox News interview that was unparalleled in the ferocity he displayed towards a key US ally. “I’ve been their biggest defender on the floor of the United States Senate [but] this guy is a wrecking ball,” he continued. “He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it — I feel used and abused. The MBS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage.”
After a phone conversation with King Salman, President Trump said on Monday night that it was possible Khashoggi had been the victim of “rogue killers”. Unnamed sources have said that Saudi Arabia was about to confess to the killing but blame it on an interrogation or abduction attempt that went wrong.
If that was an explanation that had been put to or even worked out with Turkey as part of a joint attempt to save face, as some suggested, its revelation seemed to backfire. After forensic scientists and a prosecutor completed an examination of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul yesterday morning, they were told to move on to the consul-general’s residence, where officials have implied Khashoggi’s body was dismembered.
President Erdogan told reporters about some of the forensic scientists’ findings. He also made a further direct allegation of a Saudi Arabian cover-up, in an apparent snub to hopes in the White House and Riyadh of a face-saving “joint investigation”.
“My hope is that we can reach conclusions that will give us a reasonable opinion as soon as possible,” Mr Erdogan told reporters. “The investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over.”
Later in the day Turkish officials briefed local media that the forensic scientists had found “evidence that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate”. The accusations were a sharp contrast with the outward appearance of Mr Pompeo’s arrival in Riyadh, where he saw the king, for 15 minutes, and the crown prince, for 40 minutes.
Photographs of Mr Pompeo shaking the crown prince’s hand and laughing with him did nothing to assuage fears on Capitol Hill, where concern is growing over the future of the Saudi-US relationship. After his talks Mr Pompeo issued a statement saying: “My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders and senior officials.”
The crown prince emphasised that the two countries were “strong and old allies”. “We face our challenges together,” he told Mr Pompeo before the cameras.
In Washington Marco Rubio, another Republican senator, said that there was not “enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights” if America took the explanation for granted and did not punish Riyadh. He said that reputation was more important than continued arms sales — the value of which was specifically cited by Mr Trump as a reason not to be too hard on Riyadh.
Mr Rubio said there had been a “fear” for a long time that the crown prince was a “young and aggressive” guy.
At the weekend Saudi Arabia sent nine of its officials to join the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, but has said virtually nothing about what they have done or discovered so far. A well-connected newspaper in Riyadh said that officials had called in for questioning the 15 men Turkey identified from passport control security cameras as having travelled to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi went missing. Among the men since identified are the forensic science chief in the general security department, military officers and a member of the royal guard seen with the crown prince.
The New York Times reported that four of the men were linked to the crown prince’s security detail. Saudi media claim that the 15 men were tourists and continue to describe the Turkish allegations as “lurid” fiction.
The backlash to Khashoggi’s disappearance has hit a key Saudi investment conference next week. Business leaders have continued to drop out. Tidjane Thiam, the Credit Suisse chief executive, John Flint, the chief executive of HSBC, and Jean Lemierre, the chairman of BNP Paribas, became the latest high profile bankers to pull out.
Liam Fox, Britain’s international trade secretary, and Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, are still due to attend. However Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has deferred a visit to the Middle East which would have included attending the conference.