WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump acknowledged that it "certainly looks" as if missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead as new details that surfaced Thursday depicted a gruesome slaying inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey two weeks ago.
Trump threatened "very severe" consequences if the Saudis are found to have murdered him.
The New York Times and other news outlets, citing detail from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official, reported Khashoggi was killed. The reports say he was beheaded, dismembered and his fingers severed, and that within two hours the killers had left the consulate.
In Istanbul, Turkey, a leaked surveillance photo also showed a man who has been a member of the Saudi crown prince's entourage during trips abroad walking into the Saudi Consulate just before Khashoggi vanished there — timing that drew the kingdom's heir-apparent closer to the columnist's apparent demise.
Turkish officials said Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb flew into Istanbul on a private jet along with an "autopsy expert" Oct. 2 and left that night.
Trump, who has insisted that more facts must be known before making assumptions, did not say on what he based his latest statement about the writer's likely demise.
Asked if Khashoggi was dead, Trump said, "It certainly looks that way ... Very sad."
Asked what consequence Saudi leaders would face if they are found to be responsible, he replied: "It will have to be very severe. It's bad, bad stuff. But we'll see what happens."
Khashoggi, 60, a Saudi citizen residing in Virginia, was a contributing writer for The Washington Post. He went missing on Oct. 2 after having walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for an appointment to retrieve a document.
A former Saudi government insider, Khashoggi wrote columns criticizing the Saudi regime, particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler.
Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed Trump at the White House after returning from meeting this week with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Pompeo said he told the president he wanted to give time to international investigators and “allow the facts to unfold.”
In a brief statement outside the White House, Pompeo said, “There are lots of stories out there about what happened, and I’m going to allow the process to move forward and allow the facts to unfold, and as they unfold, we will make a determination for ourselves about what happened there, based on the facts that are presented.”
Pompeo said he met with King Salman, the crown prince and the foreign minister this week in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. He also traveled to Ankara, where he spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“We made clear to them that we take this matter very seriously, and they made clear to me that they, too, understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi,” Pompeo said.
As Trump has in recent days, Pompeo stressed the importance of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
“I think it’s important for us all to remember, too, that we have a long — since 1932 — we have a long strategic relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They can be an important counterterrorism partner, they have custody of two holy sites, they are an important strategic alliance,” Pompeo said.
Minutes after Pompeo’s briefing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted his decision to skip an economic forum in Saudi Arabia.
"Just met with @realDonaldTrump and @SecPompeo and we have decided, I will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia," Mnuchin tweeted.
The economic forum, scheduled to begin Tuesday, was dubbed "Davos in the Desert," but several major U.S. corporations have pulled out since Khashoggi's disappearance.
Trump is scheduled to leave Washington Thursday afternoon for a "Make America Great Again" rally in Montana.