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US defence chief wants more 'evidence' on Khashoggi killing

Mattis faces mounting criticism for failing to connect Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Mattis previously said there is 'no smoking gun' in Khashoggi case (Reuters)

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, facing criticism for refusing to connect the Saudi crown prince to the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said he needs to see more evidence to determine who was behind the murder.

"If I say something, I need the evidence," Mattis told reporters on Wednesday as he flew to a defence summit in Canada.

"I am quite satisfied we will find more evidence of what happened. I just don't know what it is going to be, or who will be implicated, but we will follow it as far as we can."

'Zero question' MBS ordered Khashoggi murder, US senators say
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Mattis's comments come a day after several US Republican lawmakers emerged from a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel saying they were certain that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, ordered Khashoggi's murder.

A Saudi government critic and Washington Post columnist, Khashoggi was murdered inside his country's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, setting off an unprecedented level of criticism, outrage and scrutiny of Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, MBS.

"MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he’s complicit in the murder of Mr Khashoggi to the highest level possible," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters on Tuesday after he came out of the meeting with Haspel.

"I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept appraised of the situation all the way through it," said Bob Corker, another Republican senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, on Tuesday.

A 'smoking saw'

The case has not only led to tensions between Washington and Riyadh, but pitted US President Donald Trump against several members of his own political party, some of whom have called for the US to impose sanctions on the crown prince.

Trump has so far insisted on keeping strong ties to Saudi Arabia, saying the Saudi government is a key ally in the fight against Iran and has signed billions of dollars worth of defence contracts with US companies.

Several key members of the Trump administration, including Mattis, have so far stayed in line with the president's position on the Saudis.

Mattis previously said there was "no smoking gun" in the Khashoggi case, while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that there is no definitive link between MBS and the murder.

Still, the CIA has concluded that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing and US lawmakers are of the same view.

Graham said on Tuesday that while there may not be a smoking gun, there is a "smoking saw," a reference to reports that a member of the Saudi hit team sent to Istanbul used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi's body after he was killed.

A source told Reuters on Tuesday that Trump administration officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, will brief all members of the US House of Representatives on the Saudi situation on 13 December.

Haspel, the CIA director, is also expected to brief leaders and top committee members of the House within the next two weeks on Khashoggi's killing, a source familiar with the plans told Reuters.

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