Trump: Saudis face ‘severe punishment’ if murder proved

A Saudi Arabian flag flies near a security camera on the top of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh has dismissed as “lies and baseless allegations” a Turkish claim that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was ordered murdered by a hit squad inside the building. (AFP Photo)

US President Donald Trump has warned that there would be “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it turns out that missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Riyadh and legal resident of the United States, disappeared on Oct 2 after visiting the consulate. Turkey claims to have audio evidence of his killing but the Saudis have called such claims “lies”.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” Trump said.

Pressed on whether punishment could include the cancellation of arms sales to Riyadh, he said he did not want to hurt the jobs of American defence workers, but other options could be explored.

Asked whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an order to kill the journalist, Trump said “nobody knows yet, but we’ll probably be able to find out”.

“We would be very upset and angry if that were the case,” he said in an interview with the CBS television programme 60 Minutes, excerpts of which were released on Saturday. The full interview will be broadcast on Sunday evening in the US.

Trump said there was much at stake with Khashoggi case, “maybe especially so” because he was a reporter.

But when asked what options he would consider, the president said he was not keen to limit arms sales to the kingdom — a position he has previously voiced.

“Well, it depends on what the sanction is,” he said.

“I’ll give you an example — they are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it, and we got all of it, every bit of it.

“I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that. And you know what, there are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”

Turkish officials say they have an audio recording of the alleged killing of Khashoggi from the Apple Watch he wore when he walked into the consulate, a pro-government Turkish newspaper reported on Saturday.

Authorities recovered the audio from Khashoggi’s iPhone and his iCloud account, Sabah reported. The journalist had given his phones to his fiancee before entering the consulate.

The newspaper also alleged Saudi officials tried to delete the recordings first by incorrectly guessing Khashoggi’s PIN on the watch, then later using the journalist’s finger. However, Apple Watches do not have a fingerprint ID unlock function like iPhones. The newspaper did not address that in its report.

An Apple Watch can record audio and can sync that later with an iPhone over a Bluetooth connection if it is close by. The newspaper’s account did not elaborate on how the Apple Watch synced that information to both the phone and Khashoggi’s iCloud account.

Turkish officials say they believe a 15-member Saudi “assassination squad” killed Khashoggi at the consulate. They’ve also alleged that they have video of the slaying, but have not explained how they have it.

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