WASHINGTON DC - Turkish and U.S. officials have confirmed to The Washington Post that investigators probing the disappearance of Saudi-born, Washington DC-resident, and The Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, have audio and video recordings of the journalist's apprehension and murder.
They say the journalist, who was detained at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after he entered it with an appointment on October 2nd to obtain a paper for his upcoming marriage, was tortured before being killed and that his body was dismembered by a bone saw before being taken from the consulate for disposal.
On Saturday CNN was reporting a Turkish newspaper was claiming the torture and murder were recorded by Khashoggi on his Apple watch, and the recordings were transmitted to his phone which had been left with his fiance who was waiting for him outside the consulate.
An expert also appeared on CNN saying he doubted the journalist's Apple watch would be capable of recording and then transmitting sound and images. He said if the Turkish government has recordings, they would likely be from their own devices, noting the intense rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the likelihood that the consulate would have been under heavy surveillance.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said the United States has sent an investigation team to Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia too has sent an investigative team, which it proposed, and Turkey agreed to. The delegation was due to arrive in Istanbul on Saturday.
Saudi Arabia on Friday said it welcomed Turkey’s positive response to its request to form a joint committee to probe the disappearance of Khashoggi.
“Saudi Arabia commends the positive response from our brother country Turkey to its request to form a joint expert team to bring the Jamal Khashoggi case to light,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said on its official Twitter page.
“We firmly believe in the capability of the joint investigation team to complete the mission through cooperation.”
Turkey too was putting a positive slant on the move.
“Within the framework of close cooperation between Turkey and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and upon the suggestion of the Kingdom, a joint working team between Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be formed to investigate the case of Jamal in all its aspects," Turkish presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin said Thursday.
The investigation will need to address reports of the purported audio and video recordings, and Turkish investigators may want to interview the fifteen Saudis who arrived in Istanbul on two planes and visited the consulate at the same time as Khashoggi, before departing Turkey. All of the 15 individuals have been identified, and whether Saudi Arabia will fly the group back to Turkey to be interviewed is one of the questions the joint team will need to consider.
Turkish officials have told local media they believe Khashoggi, a critic of some of the policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered last week by the team of 15 Saudi ‘agents,’ a claim the Saudi Arabia government says is “baseless.”
Reports surfaced through the week that U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed to The Washington Post they had intercepted chatter confirming Crown Prince Salman had ordered Khashoggi be lured back to Saudi Arabia and detained.
Saudi Arabia is insisting it had nothing to do with the journalist's disappearance. Saudi Arabia's Minister of the Interior, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, on Saturday described the various reports surfacing this week as "lies and baseless allegations," according to a report by the Saudi Press Agency.
“The United States government has offered its support to the Turkish government to provide law enforcement assistance to the Turkish government. In terms of whether or not we have people on the ground, that’s not something that I can address here from this podium,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday,
“We don’t have an information on his whereabouts right now or what happened to him,” she added.
President Trump said “it would be a very sad thing” if Khashoggi has been killed and would set a “terrible, terrible precedent. I don’t like it. No good.”
He ruled out however suspending a proposed $110 billion in annual arms sales to Saudi Arabia, because he said that would harm U.S. defense manufacturers.
“That doesn’t help us, knowing the Saudis have four or five other options” to buy arms from other countries," he said.
On Friday Mr Trump said he would be telephoning King Salman "at some point."
"We’re going to find out what happened with respect to the terrible situation in Turkey having to do with Saudi Arabia and the reporter," he told reporters in Ohio on Friday.
Arab media has been low-key on Khasjoggi's disappearance. Most publications are completely silent on the issue.
Arab News, based in Saudi Arabia has run stories announcing the formation of the cooperation teams combining Turkish and Saudi investigators to probe Khashoggi's disappearance.
Some articles have alluded to the potential that the stories circulating are the work of Qatar and/or Iran.
"So, while on one hand concerned journalists have a right to question Khashoggi’s disappearance, we should not ignore that there is also much at play here from a Qatari point of view considering Khashoggi’s political affiliations, and his most recent stance which was critical of Riyadh," the Editor-in-Chief of Arab News Faisal J. Abbas wrote in a piece on Thursday.
"Was his vanishing used to embarrass Saudi Arabia? As we wait for the facts to unravel, what is clear is that this is definitely the case, at least from Al Jazeera and other Qatari media outlets’ way of reporting unconfirmed facts and relying on speculation and anonymous sources."
"This is not the first time Doha, in particular, has tried to undermine the change happening in Saudi Arabia. It has resorted to every possible method of standing in the way of Riyadh’s sweeping reforms. It has constantly tried to portray the Kingdom as the aggressor, ignoring, in the case of the boycott, that there are written confessions signed by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim himself pledging to stop meddling in the internal affairs of neighboring states," said Abbas, a former colleague of Khashoggi who was at one time deputy editor of Arab News.
Meantime, two U.S. congressmen were at work on Friday calling on Congress to get the Trump administration to release intelligence that could indicate it had foreknowledge about a plot to abduct or kill Khashoggi.
House of Representatives members Ro Khanna of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin distributed a letter to fellow members that calls on Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats "to release information regarding the U.S. intelligence community’s advance knowledge of Saudi Arabia’s plot to capture journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi."
The Democratic congressmen are relying on a directive to intelligence agencies that they have a responsibility "to warn both U.S. and non-U.S. persons of threats of serious bodily injury, kidnapping, and intentional killing."
"Given your office oversees the U.S. intelligence community’s duty-to-warn process, we seek urgent answers as to whether Mr. Khashoggi was in fact contacted about the credible threat to his life and liberty posed by the Saudi plot to capture him," the congressmen said they want to put in their letter to Coats.
"Considering the profound ramifications of this potential crime, U.S. foreknowledge of Saudi plans to detain Mr. Khashoggi, and whether the U.S. intelligence community carried out its duty to warn, we intend to use the full force of Congressional oversight and investigatory powers to obtain these answers should they not be forthcoming," they have said in their draft letter.
The State Department when confronted with reports of foreknowledge, denied the United States. had any "advance knowledge" of a plot to abduct Khashoggi. The spokesperson was then asked that if it had, would it have a duty to inform Khashoggi.
The State Department spokesperson brushed off the question saying the question was "hypothetical."