Published 10:01 PM EDT Oct 11, 2018
Turkish officials have told the U.S. that they have proof that a missing Washington Post columnist was tortured, murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month, the Post reported.
Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance set off a firestorm of accusations, criticism and political tension after the Saudi national failed to return from a visit to the consulate on Oct. 2. Some U.S. officials, including Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., say the case may strain U.S.-Saudi relations and threaten to block billions of dollars in arms sales to America's strong ally in the Middle East.
Thursday's revelation by the Post cited unnamed Turkish and U.S. officials, who said their information is based on surveillance tapes and covert audio recordings made without the knowledge of Saudi officials. The officials said they did not want to publicly release the recordings because they would divulge how the Turks spy on foreign nationals.
“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” the Post quotes one of the unnamed officials as saying. “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic . . . You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”
Saudi officials have denied any wrongdoing in Khashoggi's disappearance and claim that he left the consulate, where he had gone to obtain official documents before his upcoming wedding, shortly after his arrival.
A critic of the Saudi regime living in self-imposed exile in the U.S., Khashoggi has not been seen since that day.
Turkish media on Wednesday published the names of 15 Saudi nationals who traveled to Istanbul the day Khashoggi disappeared. One of them is the head of a forensic department in Saudi Arabia's intelligence services. Others appear to be Saudi agents of one kind or another, according to Turkey's Sabah newspaper.
President Donald Trump and his top advisers have cultivated a close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Trump has touted the Saudi Arabian government's promise to buy "lots of beautiful military equipment" from the U.S.
On Thursday, Trump said the White House has opened an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance but repeated that he does not favor stopping arms sales in retaliation.
“We don’t like it, we don’t like it a little bit,” Trump told reporters. “What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that happened. Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised but somehow I doubt it.”
The Executive Branch has authority to make such a sale, but Congress can block it with a vote of disapproval in the House and the Senate.
More: Senate Foreign Relations chair: Saudis responsible for missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Related: What we know (and don't) about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Also: Fiancée of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Trump: Please help
Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted that he already has a hold barring the Trump administration from moving forward with an arms sale – a move he made before Khashoggi’s disappearance. The New Jersey lawmaker said the latest developments have only increased support for his blockade.
“At this point, I don’t see that moving forward,” Menendez said of the weapons sales. “We can’t let even an ally believe that they have carte blanche to do anything they want.”
Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, made a desperate appeal to President Trump and his wife Melania to get involved in the case.
Khashoggi had been living in the U.S. since last year for fear of persecution from the Saudi authorities. He sought to become a U.S. citizen. He visited the consulate in Istanbul because he needed to pick up paperwork to marry Cengiz, who is Turkish.
"We were in the middle of making wedding plans, life plans. After the consulate, we were going to buy appliances for our new home and set a date. All we needed was a piece of paper," she wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. "Jamal is a valuable person, an exemplary thinker and a courageous man who has been fighting for his principles. I don’t know how I can keep living if he was abducted or killed in Turkey."