The disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi sparked a diplomatic scandal, sent global markets reeling, and again raised questions whether President Trump more readily backs international despots than his own intelligence officials.
Who is Jamal Khashoggi?
Khashoggi, 59, a U.S. permanent resident who lived in Virginia, was a longtime progressive journalist in Saudi Arabia who was a well-liked source for Western reporters. At one point, he served as a press surrogate for the Saudi royal family.
In September 2017, after crown prince Mohammed bin Salman centralized the Saudi government under his control, Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia and settled in the United States. He became a columnist for the Post and “reinvented himself as the crown prince’s most prominent critic in the West,” said the New York Times.
When did Jamal Khashoggi disappear?
Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2. Security video shows him walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He was picking up paperwork for a planned wedding to his Turkish fiancée, with whom he planned to live between Turkey and the United States.
His fiancée waited for hours in their car, but Khashoggi never emerged. There is no video of him leaving the building.
What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?
Officially, the Saudi government said that Khashoggi left the building.
It is suspected that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, dismembered and removed from the building in pieces.
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that there are tapes of Khashoggi being interrogated and murdered, possibly recorded on Khashoggi’s Apple Watch and sent to the cloud. (Fearing that something might happen to him in the consulate, Khahshoggi apparently left his smartphone behind with his soon-to-be-wife.)
On Monday, CNN reported that the Saudis were readying a report that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate during an “interrogation that went wrong” which was intended to end in his abduction. “The report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible,” said CNN, citing two sources.
Turkish authorities had previously said that 15 men who arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 2 were involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, some of whom had high-level connections to the Saudi government.
What has Trump said about Jamal Khashoggi?
Earlier on Monday, President Trump told reporters on the White House lawn that he had spoken with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who had denied involvement “very strongly.” He suggested that “rogue killers” might have been behind Khashoggi’s disappearance. To some, this was another incidence of the president siding with a foreign leader instead of domestic intelligence, an echo of his approach to Vladimir Putin and Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
A diplomatic crisis roiled over the weekend, as bipartisan members of Congress demanded answers. Several U.S. media organizations and business leaders dropped out of an upcoming economic conference in Riyadh, which was intended to promote Bin Salman’s reform plans for the country. Political observers said diplomatic relations with the Saudis were at their lowest point since 9/11.
Trump promised “severe punishment” to the offenders but also urged caution because Saudi Arabia has so much money invested in the U.S. economy. Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner reportedly has a close relationship with Bin Salman. The Saudi stock market fell 7 percent on Monday over fears of U.S. sanctions.