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Trump 'concerned' about Khashoggi after days of silence

US president finally speaks about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying his disappearance 'hopefully will sort itself out'
A protest outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul following the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi (AFP)

Donald Trump said on Monday he was concerned about reports on the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has been missing since last week.

The US president's comments come days after Turkish sources said that authorities believe Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“I am concerned about it. I don’t like hearing about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now nobody knows anything about it.”

Leaders within the ruling Republican party issued a varying array of condemnations and concerns.

US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted on Monday that it was "imperative" to find out what happened to the Saudi Arabian dissident.

"Honest answers must be forthcoming for the sake of the Saudi-US relationship," he wrote.

Graham also said that if allegations of Saudi wrongdoing prove true, "it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid - economically and otherwise".

In a talk with the National Press Club in Washington, House Majority Leader Paul Ryan said news of Khashoggi's disappearance is "very disturbing and unnerving".

"We just need to get clear facts from both governments. As an elected leader, we stand with the media in solidarity to make sure that this does not go unnoticed," he said.

Bob Corker, the Republican senator who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he personally raised the issue of Khashoggi's disappearance with the Saudi ambassador.

"And while we await more information, know we will respond accordingly to any state that targets journalists abroad," Corker tweeted on Monday afternoon.

On Sunday, another Republican senator, Marco Rubio, also tweeted that he was "deeply disturbed" by the news of Khashoggi's disappearence and called for action from the US:

Days of silence

Before Trump and his allies commented on Khashoggi's disapearance, social media users criticised the "deafening silence" from the US administration.

An unidentified Turkish official told the Reuters news agency over the weekend that Turkish police believed Khashoggi had been killed and his body then removed from the building.

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"The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate," said the official.

No evidence has yet been provided by officials. 

As a Turkish forensic team prepares to enter the consulate, where authorities suspect that Khashoggi was killed, social media users highlighted the seriousness of Khashoggi’s disappearance - and the failure of the White House to respond quickly.

In May 2017, Trump signed the largest arms deal with the Gulf kingdom in history.

The deal - worth $109.7bn - caused uproar, with Amnesty International accusing Trump of “emboldening” further violations of human rights in the region. 

Social media users seemed to agree that Trump’s embrace of the Saudi government has empowered the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Khashoggi is a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of Saudi government policies. He had been a prominent and well-respected journalist for decades and worked as a foreign correspondent for Saudi newspapers across the region.

Khashoggi also previously served as the media advisor to Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal during his tenure as ambassador in London and Washington.

He had been based in Washington DC since he fled Saudi Arabia in 2017 over fears of the new government’s crackdown on critical voices and was unsparing on the issue that caused his final rift with Riyadh.

He also pointedly criticised President Trump's relationship with Riyadh.

"From time to time, Trump tweets that he is protecting us and that we must pay for such protection to continue. He protects us from what? Or he is protecting who? I believe that the greatest threat facing the Gulf countries and their oil is a president such as Trump who sees nothing in us apart from the oil wells," Khashoggi wrote.

"I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice," Khashoggi wrote in September 2017. 

"To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot."

Yasin Aktay, a former MP for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the man Khashoggi told his fiancee to call if he did not emerge from the consulate, voiced concerns over the Saudi national's whereabouts.  

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"His friends had warned him [Khashoggi], 'Do not go there, it is not safe,' but he said they [the Saudis] could not do anything in Turkey," said Aktay.

Turkish authorities believe that a group of Saudi nationals may have been involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Police said about 15 Saudis, including officials, came to Istanbul on two private flights on Tuesday and were at the consulate at the same time as the journalist. They left again the same day, according to MEE's sources.

Another police source told MEE on Saturday: "The consulate is surrounded by cameras, no evidence of Khashoggi leaving was recorded on them."