Saudi Arabia Refuses To Answer US Questions About Alleged Murder Of Dissident Journalist

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The close relationship between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia has come under strain over Riyadh’s refusal to respond to questions about the alleged disappearance and murder of a prominent journalist who has been critical of the kingdom’s leaders.

Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and contributor to The Washington Post, was last seen Tuesday visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to pick up a marriage document.

Turkish authorities said Saturday that a team of Saudi agents was dispatched to the consulate to silence Khashoggi, who is vocal critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the kingdom’s foreign policy. The “pre-planned murder” team killed the Saudi journalist and removed his body from the consulate in secret, according to local media reports citing Turkish officials. (RELATED: Prominent Saudi Journalist Reportedly Killed In ‘Pre-Planned’ Murder At Consulate In Turkey)

“He was killed and his body was dismembered,” Turan Kislakci, the head of Turkish Arab Media Association, said he was informed by Turkish authorities.

Riyadh has denied the allegations and insisted that Khashoggi left the consulate not long after he arrived. In a statement released Sunday through the Saudi Press Agency, kingdom officials called the allegations “baseless” and “expressed his doubt that they came from Turkish officials that are informed of the investigation.”

The State Department says it is also investigating Khashoggi’s disappearance, but has received few answers from the Saudi government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top U.S. diplomats have complained privately about Riyadh’s lack of response to direct high-level queries, the Washington Post reported Monday.

If the shocking reports of Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents are confirmed, it could force a reassessment of the close relationship Washington has forged with bin Salman’s government. President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Middle East envoy Jared Kushner, have embraced bin Salman as a social reformer and a partner in the administration’s efforts to confront Iran in the region.

But leading up to Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had begun to question the alliance with Riyadh, especially Washington’s backing of the Saudi-led coalition in the war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a leading critic of the Trump administration’s Yemen policy, said Saturday that confirmation of the Turkish reports should prompt a reassessment of ties with Riyadh.

“If this is true — that the Saudis lured a U.S. resident into their consulate and murdered him — it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

A former Saudi insider, the U.S.-educated Khashoggi has a long history of criticizing the kingdom’s rulers, particularly over their promotion of ultra-conservative Salafist Islam and crackdown on political and religious dissidents. More recently, he has denounced bin Salman’s foreign policy and the widespread targeting of Saudi intellectuals and religious leaders who disagree with the government.

Khashoggi has been living in self-imposed exile in Washington, D.C. since 2017, fearing official retribution for his views.

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