Saudi authorities staged the “worst cover-up ever” in the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month, US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday, as Washington vowed to revoke the visas of some of those believed to be responsible.
Speaking hours after Turkey’s leader Tayyip Erdogan dismissed Saudi efforts to blame Khashoggi’s death on rogue operatives, Trump said the killing and subsequent cover-up by Saudi Arabia were “a total fiasco”, Reuters reports.
“There should have never been an execution or a cover-up, because it should have never happened,” he said.
Trump added that he had spoken on Monday with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who denied having anything to do with Khashoggi’s killing.
Earlier, the US president said the Khashoggi matter was handled badly by Saudi officials.
“Bad deal, should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi crown prince, was a US resident and Washington Post columnist.
Trump did not give his views on who was ultimately responsible. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had identified some of the Saudi government and security officials it believed were involved in Khashoggi’s murder and would take appropriate actions including revoking US visas.
The US State Department said 21 Saudis would have their visas revoked or be made ineligible for visas.
“As we continue to develop our understanding of the individuals that were responsible for this, not only those who executed it but those who were connected to it, the world should know that we intend to hold those individuals accountable when we develop this fact set,” Pompeo told reporters.
Pompeo also said the State Department is looking into whether sanctions could be applicable for those found to be involved.
“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States,” Pompeo said, although he emphasized the importance of the US-Saudi relationship. “Neither the president nor I are happy with this situation.”
Trump’s comments in recent days have ranged from threatening Saudi Arabia with “very severe” consequences and mentioning possible economic sanctions, to more conciliatory remarks highlighting the country’s role as a US ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of US arms, Reuters noted.
As the crisis unfolded over the past three weeks, Saudi Arabia changed its tune on Khashoggi. Riyadh initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate before saying on Saturday he was killed in a fight in the consulate, an account met with skepticism from several Western governments.
Turkish security sources say that when Khashoggi entered the consulate, he was seized by 15 Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets just hours before.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s leader Erdogan urged Riyadh to search “from top to bottom” to uncover those behind Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
“The Saudi administration has taken an important step by admitting to the murder. From now on, we expect them to uncover all those responsible for this matter from top to bottom and make them face the necessary punishments,” Erdogan was quoted as saying in a speech in parliament.
“From the person who gave the order, to the person who carried it out, they must all be brought to account,” Turkey’s president said.
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