Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, expressed her support for a freeze on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
Angela Merkel’s comments on Sunday in Berlin follow the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.
A man appearing to wear Khashoggi’s clothes left the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul following his killing there, according to a surveillance video, while a member of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage made four calls to the royal’s office around the same time, reports said Monday.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier underlined Merkel’s point Monday, calling for a joint European position, as Germany “won’t at this point approve any further arms exports because we want to know what happened.”
Turkish media reports and officials maintain that a 15-member Saudi team flew to Istanbul on October 2, knowing Khashoggi would arrive for a document he needed to get married. Once he was inside the diplomatic mission, the Saudis apprehended Khashoggi, cut off his fingers, killed and dismembered the 59-year-old writer.
The kingdom claims Khashoggi died in a “fistfight.”
Britain, Germany and France issued a joint statement condemning the killing of Khashoggi, saying there is an “urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened.”
In a statement Sunday, the governments said attacks on journalists are unacceptable and “of utmost concern to our three nations.” They said the “hypotheses” proposed so far in the Saudi investigation need to be backed by facts to be considered credible.
Surveillance footage on Monday showing the man in Khashoggi’s dress shirt, suit jacket and pants. A Turkish official described the man as a “body double” and a member of the Saudi team sent to Istanbul to target the journalist. The man is seen in the footage walking out of the consulate via its back exit with an accomplice, then taking a taxi to Istanbul’s famed Sultan Ahmed Mosque, where he went into a public bathroom, changed back out of the clothes and left.
The state-run broadcaster TRT later also reported that a man who entered the consulate building was seen leaving the building in Khashoggi’s clothes.
In the days after Khashoggi vanished, Saudi officials initially said that he had left the consulate, implying premeditation on the part of the Saudi team.
A separate report by newspaper Yeni Safak said Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage on trips to the United States, France and Spain this year, made the calls from the consulate. The newspaper said the four calls went to Bader al-Asaker, the head of Prince Mohammed’s office. It said another call went to the United States.
Yeni Safak cited no source for the information. However, pro-government newspapers have been leaking information about Khashoggi’s killing, apparently with the help of Turkish security forces. Yeni Safak reported last week that Saudi officials cut off Khashoggi’s fingers and then decapitated him at the consulate as his fiancée waited outside.
Officials in Saudi Arabia have not answered repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press, including on Monday. Saudi Arabia so far has not acknowledged or explained Mutreb’s presence in Istanbul – nor that a forensics and autopsy expert was also on hand for Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate.
Meanwhile, Saudi state media reported that both Prince Mohammed and King Salman made calls to Khashoggi’s son, Salah, early on Monday morning. Statements from the agency said both the king and the crown prince expressed their condolences for Khashoggi’s death.
A Saudi friend of Khashoggi who was in frequent touch with him before his death told AP that Salah Khashoggi had been under a travel ban and barred from leaving the kingdom since last year as a result of his father’s criticism of the government. The friend spoke cautiously for fear of repercussion.
The Saudi statements did not acknowledge the ban.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday told us that Khashoggi’s killing was “a rogue operation” and that “we don’t know where the body is.”
“The individuals who are responsible for this did so outside the scope of their authority,” he said. “There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try and cover up the mistake. That is unacceptable to the government.”
However, leading Republicans and Democrats in Congress are saying Saudi Arabia should face punishment over Khashoggi’s killing. President Donald Trump also had talked about possible punishment but said he didn’t want to halt proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia because, he maintained, it would harm U.S. manufacturers.