President Donald Trump said he has spoken to officials at the highest level in Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants the United States to get to the bottom of the matter.
Khashoggi disappeared a week ago and was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he went to pick up a document he needed for his planned marriage.
Turkish sources have said they believe Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi policies, was killed inside the mission.
“This is a bad situation,” Trump told reporters, adding that he would like to invite Khashoggi’s fiancee to the White House.
The White House said that National Security Advisor John Bolton and White House aide Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to request information about Khashoggi.
“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow up call with the Crown Prince to reiterate the United States request for information,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
Trump’s comments and a series of leaks to Turkish media added further pressure on Riyadh on Wednesday to provide information on the whereabouts of the prominent Saudi critic, whose disappearance has sparked global concern and created tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Turkish media on Wednesday published the identities of what it said was a 15-member Saudi intelligence team allegedly involved in the disappearance of Khashoggi, along with CCTV footage from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport while they were entering and leaving Turkey.
One of the 15 Saudis identified by name and photo in the report by Sabah newspaper is reportedly a senior forensic expert.
Other members included alleged Saudi intelligence officers and special forces operatives, Turkish media said.
Twelve of them arrived early on Tuesday, based on photos captured at passport control which were published. The 15 departed at four different times, Sabah reported.
The Saudi consulate and other authorities have not commented on the claims.
Meanwhile, Turkish television channels have run CCTV footage, which they say shows the 15 alleged Saudi officers during their time in Istanbul.
The footage allegedly shows the men arriving at the airport and checking into a hotel, as well as a van arriving at the consul-general’s residence, about 250 metres away from the consulate, two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate.
Aksam newspaper also published blurry photos of a jet arriving in Istanbul before dawn on October 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 premises. A picture of Khashoggi entering the consulate shows the time-stamp as 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.
Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia last year, saying he feared retribution for his criticism of Riyadh over the Yemen war and its crackdown on dissent, and since then he has written columns for the Washington Post.
The United Nations, the US and the United Kingdom have all called for a thorough and transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Britain’s foreign minister called for urgent answers and the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, who has seen classified intelligence on the case, said information pointed to Khashoggi being killed.
“They’ve got some explaining to do,” he said of Saudi Arabia, adding he did not wish to rush to judgment.
US Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday the US was ready to help in any way in the investigation.