Middle East

Trump says it ‘certainly looks’ like Jamal Khashoggi is dead

Trump said Saudi Arabia would have to face 'severe' consequences if found liable in Khashoggi's death (AFP)

US President Donald Trump has said that it "certainly looks" as though Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead.

“It certainly looks that way to me,” he told reporters after leaving Air Force One on Thursday.

When asked about the potential consequences Saudi Arabia could face if its officials are proven to have played a role in his death, Trump said: “It will have to be very severe.”

Trumps comments are a stunning reversal of the line the president and other top White House officials have stuck to in recent days, as the US faced mounting pressure to get to the bottom of the prominent Saudi journalist's disappearance.

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Earlier on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he told Trump that the US should give the Saudis "a few more days" to complete their investigation into Khashoggi's case "so we can get a complete understanding" of the facts.

After that, "we can make a decision about how the United States should respond to the issues surrounding Mr. Khashoggi", Pompeo told reporters.

Asked directly if Khashoggi was dead, Pompeo replied: "There are lots of stories out there about what happened, and Im going to allow the process to move forward and allow the facts to unfold, and as they unfold, we will make a determination for ourselves about what happened there, based on the facts that are presented."

Trump's earlier defence of Saudi Arabia

The US president previously dismissed claims of Saudi Arabia's involvement days ago and compared the situation to the sexual assault allegations against now-US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“Here we go again with youre guilty until proven innocent,” he told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Pompeo was dispatched to Riyadh, where he met Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh to discuss the Khashoggi case.

Pompeo said on Tuesday that Saudi leaders strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their Istanbul consulate and promised a serious and credible investigation.

"During each of today's meetings, the Saudi leadership strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul," Pompeo said in Tuesday's statement from Saudi Arabia.

"My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabias senior leaders or senior officials."

Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic, was last seen on 2 October entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials say they believe he was killed inside the building.

Saudi officials have vehemently denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.

Saudis set to point finger at official close to bin Salman: NYT

As the global fallout over Khashoggi's disappearance deepens, US and Saudi officials have sought to shield the crown prince from responsibility.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia may blame its intelligence chief, General Ahmed al-Assiri, for giving the order to kill Khashoggi.

Shifting the blame to Assiri would help MBS avoid taking any responsibility for what happened, the Times reported.

Assiri is seen as being close to MBS and has worked as the spokesman for the country's military campaign in Yemen, which was the crown prince's brainchild.

Unidentified officials with knowledge of the Saudi plans told the Times that Assiri wields considerable power to approve missions involving lower-ranking Saudi personnel.

The officials went on to say that MBS approved a mission to capture Khashoggi alive, but that Assiri either overstepped his bounds or misunderstood the instructions.


Assiri is seen as being close to MBS and has worked as the spokesman for the country's military campaign in Yemen, which was the crown prince's brainchild (AFP)

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