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US raises pressure on Saudi Arabia over missing journalist

WASHINGTON: US Pre­si­dent Donald Trump incre­a­­­sed pressure on Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to provide information on what happened to missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and said he wanted to get the bottom of what he called “a very serious situation”.

In a fresh clue, a pro-government Turkish daily on Wednesday published preliminary evidence from investigators it said identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team involved in Khashoggi’s unexplained disappearance on Oct 2.

Trump, in comments in the Oval Office, told reporters he had raised Khas­hog­gi’s case with Saudi Arabia “at the highest level” and more than once in recent days.

“We’re demanding everything,” Trump said when asked if he was demanding information from the Sau­d­­is. “We want to see what’s going on. It’s a very serious situation for us and for this White House … We want to get to the bottom of it.”

“People saw him go in and didn’t see him come out. We’re going to take a very serious look at it. It’s a terrible thing,” Trump said. “This is a bad situation. We cannot let this happen, to reporters, to anybody. We can’t let this happen.”

And in another sign the White House was stepping up pressure, White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday.

The White House also said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed up with his own call to the Crown Prince, who had forged close ties to the administration, especially Kushner.

“In both calls they asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process. We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as available,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sand­ers said in a statement.

Trump made Saudi Arabia the first stop on his first foreign trip as president in May 2017, but in recent weeks has appeared to sour a bit on Riyadh, complaining directly to King Salman about the cost of American support for the Saudi military and for OPEC oil price increases.

Saudi visitors

One of the 15 Saudis identified by name and photo in the report by Turkey’s Sabah newspaper is a forensic expert who has worked at the Saudi Interior Min­istry for 20 years, according to a LinkedIn profile and Saudi media, and serves on the board of the Saudi Society of Forensic Medicine.

Other names and photos of the 15, who Sabah said travelled on diplomatic passports, match officers in the Saudi Army and Air Force, as identified by previous Saudi media reports and in one case a Facebook profile.

Sabah newspaper published the names and years of birth of the 15 Saudis it said arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. Twelve of them arrived early on Tuesday, based on photos captured at passport control which it published. The 15 departed at four different times, Sabah reported.

The Sabah report said that the Saudis stayed at the Wyndham and Moven­pick hotels in Istanbul, in the same neighbourhood as the Saudi consulate. Both ho­­­tels declined to comment.

Aksam newspaper also published blurred photos of a jet arriving in Istanbul before dawn on Oct 2, carrying what it said were nine members of the Saudi team, as well as images of some of them checking in at a hotel.

Aksam said they left their hotel later in the morning. Shortly after midday it said several cars entered the consulate building. A picture of Khashoggi entering the consulate shows the time-stamp 13:14.

About two hours later Aksam showed two vehicles, one of them a black Mer­ce­des Vito van with tinted win­dows and diplomatic plates, leaving the consula­te and entering the car park of the residence shortly afterwards.

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