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‘We don’t know where the body is,’ says Saudi foreign minister on Khashoggi

Mohamed el-Shahed, AFP | File photo of Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday called the killing of Jamal Khashoggi a “huge and grave mistake” but said the kingdom did not know where the body of the slain journalist was.

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Speaking in an interview on Fox News, Jubeir said the Saudi leadership initially believed Khashoggi had left its consulate in Istanbul, where he was last seen on October 2.

But following "reports we were getting from Turkey", Saudi authorities began an investigation, which discovered he was killed in the diplomatic mission.

"We don't know, in terms of details, how. We don't know where the body is," Jubeir said, adding that the Saudi public prosecutor had put out orders to detain 18 individuals, "the first step in a long journey".

Reporting from the Turkish capital, Ankara, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer noted that once again, Saudi statements on the Khashoggi case appeared to strain credulity. “Observers will reply that if the Saudis have arrested 18 suspects in the killing, why aren’t they asking those suspects what they did with the body,” said Mortimer.

“The body is key to this whole affair. The Saudis are saying Jamal Khashoggi died in a fistfight. The Turks are saying he was tortured, his fingers were cut off and then his body was dismembered. Once the body is found, an autopsy can be conducted and we will see how he was killed and what was the cause of death,” Mortimer explained.

'The body is key' in Khashoggi case

While Saudi Foreign Minister Jubeir’s comments on Sunday were some of the most direct yet from Riyadh on the case, the series of conflicting accounts from the House of Saud has undermined global confidence in ties with the world’s top oil exporter.

In his interview on Fox News, Jubeir called the killing a "huge and grave mistake". He however insisted the current strains in US-Saudi relations would eventually be overcome.

"The individuals who did this, did this outside the scope of their authority. There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up," Jubeir said.

The top Saudi diplomat maintained the operation in Istanbul was not ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite reports tying some suspects to members of the Saudi de facto ruler's security detail.

No German arms exports, says Merkel

Saudi Arabia has been facing a growing chorus of incredulity since Riyadh supplied its explanations of what happened on October 2 at its Istanbul consulate.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday said Germany will not export arms to Saudi Arabia while the current uncertainty in the Khashoggi case persists.

At a news conference in Berlin, Merkel said there was “an urgent need to clarify what happened. We are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible being held to account ... As far as arms exports are concerned, those can't take place in the current circumstances."

France, Germany, UK take unified stance

Merkel’s comments followed the release of a joint statement by Britain, France and Germany asking Saudi Arabia to provide clarity on Khashoggi’s death.

"There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened on October 2nd -- beyond the hypotheses that have been raised so far in the Saudi investigation, which need to be backed by facts to be considered credible," said the three EU nations.

"We thus stress that more efforts are needed and expected towards establishing the truth in a comprehensive, transparent and credible manner," they added.

"We will ultimately make our judgment based on the credibility of the further explanation we receive about what happened and our confidence that such a shameful event cannot and will not ever be repeated."

The joint statement followed individual statements issued Saturday by the governments of France, Germany and Britain demanding a thorough investigation and transparency in the Khashoggi case.

In a statement released Saturday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “Many questions remain unanswered. They require a thorough and diligent investigation to establish exactly who was responsible for the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi and to ensure that those who are guilty answer for the actions.”

Trump accuses Saudis of ‘lies’

US President Donald Trump, a close ally of the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, made his strongest comments to date on the case in an interview with the Washington Post published late Saturday.

"Obviously there's been deception and there's been lies," he said of the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh. "Their stories are all over the place."

Pressure has been mounting on Trump to take a stronger stance against the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.

Several senior members of Trump's Republican Party said they believed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, was linked to the killing, and one called for a "collective" Western response if a link is proved.

But Trump stopped far short of calling for the prince to be replaced, emphasising as he has before how important the US-Saudi relationship is to Washington's regional strategic goals.

He described the 33-year-old Saudi crown prince, widely known as MBS, as a "strong person; he has very good control."

"He's seen as a person who can keep things under check," added Trump. "I mean that in a positive way."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

 

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