DETAILS of how Saudi Arabia deployed an online army of trolls to harass Jamal Khashoggi have emerged as questions continue to swirl over the journalist’s mysterious death.
Saudi officials say the dissident journalist and Washington Post columnist died during a brawl at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkish officials accuse Riyadh of carrying out a state-sponsored killing and dismembering Khashoggi’s body. Police have been scouring a a rural village an hour south of Istanbul after searches on the consulate and the residence of the Saudi consul-general.
Australia has joined Canada, the European Union, Germany, France, Britain and the United Nations in demanding clarity into Khashoggi’s death.
The Saudi journalist was a high-profile critic of his country’s leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
He went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Khashoggi’s killers could have dumped his remains in Belgrad Forest near Istanbul, and at a rural location near the city of Yalova, a one-hour drive south of Istanbul, the officials said.
“The investigations led to some suspicion that his remains may be in the city of Yalova and the Belgrad forest, police have been searching these areas,” one of the officials said.
They added a “farm house or villa” may have been used to dump the remains.
Turkish police have also searched the Saudi consulate and the home of the Saudi consul general’s residence in Istanbul, where they left with bags and boxes.
Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi died during a “brawl” inside the consulate on October 2.
Eighteen nationals have reportedly been arrested in connection with the suspected murder, and five of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s top aides — including intelligence official Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani — have been sacked.
Khashoggi, who recently wrote for the Washington Post, had penned columns critical of Prince Mohammed.
Turkish officials in Ankara vowed to reveal all the details of its two-week inquiry as US President Donald Trump said he was unsatisfied with Saudi Arabia’s response.
The European Union, Germany, France, Britain and the UN have also demanded clarity into the missing journalist’s death.
A Saudi public prosecutor revealed on state television on Saturday a primary investigation into Khashoggi disappearance confirmed he was dead.
“The discussions between Jamal Khashoggi and those he met at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul … devolved into a fistfight, leading to his death,” the public prosecutor said.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expresses deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place in this case and affirms the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the attention of the public and to hold accountable all those involved.”
According to state TV, those responsible then tried to cover up the death.
Missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Picture: Facebook.Source:Facebook
Mr Trump vowed “severe punishment” should the United States find Saudi Arabia responsible for the death of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi — but he doesn’t intend to back down on a lucrative arms deal with the kingdom.
He said it was “a good first step” that Saudi Arabia had identified those allegedly responsible for Khashoggi’s death in Turkey.
“It’s a big step. It’s a lot of people involved,” Mr Trump said after a roundtable at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
“I think it’s a very important first step and it happened sooner than people thought it would happen.”
“We’ll be talking to them. We do have some questions.”
Mr Trump pledged unspecified “severe punishment” should there be Saudi involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and never came out.
But Mr Trump said he didn’t want to step away from a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a major US ally and arms customer, as it would hurt American manufacturers.
“I would prefer if there is going to be some form of sanctions — this was a lot of people they’re talking about,” he said.
“I would prefer we don’t use as retribution cancelled $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs.”
Mr Trump also said that sanctions against Saudi Arabia “could be” something he would consider, but that “it’s too early to say” how the US will respond for now.
But not everyone has bought Saudi Arabia’s “latest narrative” about what reportedly happened to Khashoggi. US Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the conservative kingdom’s most vocal defenders in Congress and a close ally of Mr Trump, led the chorus online of those who were “sceptical”.
“First we were told Mr Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement,” Mr Graham wrote.
“Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince.”
UN Secretary-General spokesman Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply troubled” by the announcement. “The Secretary-General stresses the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible,” he said.
Surveillance camera footage shows a man previously seen with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's entourage walk toward the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul just before Jamal Khashoggi disappeared from there. Picture: Sabah/ APSource:AP
The man was captured on several CCTV cameras. Picture: Sabah/APSource:AP
Khashoggi’s disappearance has sparked global outrage as the mystery surrounding it deepens.
But there’s one person believed to be at the centre of the scandal who is yet to make any public mention of it: Crown Prince bin Salman. US officials told CNN that the killing could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Prince bin Salman.
Turkish reports say Khashoggi, who had written columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post over the past year while he lived in self-imposed exile in the US, was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered the consulate on October 2. It’s believed members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are responsible for his death. The Saudis have dismissed those reports as baseless but have yet to explain what happened to the writer.
In Istanbul, a leaked surveillance photo showed a man who has been a member of the Crown Prince’s entourage during trips abroad walking into the Saudi Consulate just before Khashoggi vanished there — timing that drew the kingdom’s heir-apparent closer to the columnist’s apparent demise.
Turkish officials say Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb flew into Istanbul on a private jet along with an “autopsy expert” on October 2 and left that night.
A Turkish newspaper has also reported that the contents of Khashoggi’s Apple Watch recorded his final brutal moments.
It’s believed he gave his phone to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz before entering the consulate to arrange paperwork for his marriage.
The tape, if it’s authentic, supposedly reveals Khashoggi had his fingers cut off. According to local media, his panicked dying screams could be heard before he was “injected with an unknown drug” and went off the grid.
Despite intense scrutiny on Prince bin Salman, who is suspected of being the mastermind behind the possible killing, he is yet to publicly respond to the accusations. But there have been top secret talks behind close doors.
A US official said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week warned the Saudi crown prince that his credibility as a future leader was at stake. The prince is next in line for the throne held by his elderly father King Salman.