Leaked video shows Khashoggi ‘body double’ after killing

Photo by the Associated Press

Just hours after writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, a man strolled out of the diplomatic post apparently wearing the columnist’s clothes as part of a macabre deception to sow confusion over his fate, according to surveillance video leaked Monday.

The new video broadcast by CNN, as well as a pro-government Turkish newspaper’s report that a member of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage made four calls to the royal’s office from the consulate around the same time, put ever-increasing pressure on the kingdom. Meanwhile, Turkish crime-scene investigators swarmed a garage Monday night in Istanbul where a Saudi consular vehicle had been parked.

All this came on the eve of Prince Mohammed’s high-profile investment summit in Riyadh, which has seen a raft of the world’s top business leaders decline to attend over the slaying of the writer for The Washington Post. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also has promised that details of Khashoggi’s killing “will be revealed in all its nakedness” in an address he’ll make before parliament around the same time Tuesday.

“We are faced with a situation in which it was a brutally planned (killing) and efforts were made to cover it up,” said Omer Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party. “God willing, the results will be brought into the open, those responsible will be punished and no one will dare think of carrying out such a thing again.”

The kingdom’s announcement Saturday that Khashoggi died in a “fistfight” was met with international skepticism and allegations of a cover-up to absolve the 33-year-old crown prince of direct responsibility.

Turkish media reports and officials maintain that a 15-member Saudi team flew to Istanbul on Oct. 2, knowing Khashoggi would enter the consulate to get a document he needed to get married. Once he was inside, the Saudis accosted Khashoggi, cut off his fingers, killed and dismembered the 59-year-old writer, according to Turkish media reports.

Surveillance video on CNN showed the man in Khashoggi’s dress shirt, suit jacket and pants, although he wore a different pair of shoes. It cited a Turkish official as describing the man as a “body double” and a member of the Saudi team sent to Istanbul to target the writer. The man walks out of the consulate via its back exit with an accomplice, then takes a taxi to Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque, where he goes to a public bathroom, changes back out of the clothes and leaves. He later eats dinner with his accomplice and goes back to a hotel, where footage shows him smiling and laughing.

The state-run broadcaster TRT later also reported that a man who entered the consulate was seen leaving the building in Khashoggi’s clothes.

In the days after Khashoggi vanished, Saudi officials initially said he had left the consulate by its back door. Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Khalid bin Salman, a brother of the crown prince, wrote Oct. 8 that Khashoggi had left, and that claims the kingdom “have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless.”

The fact that the Saudi team would allegedly have a man walking around in Khashoggi’s clothes would suggest a premeditated plot to kill the writer.

A separate report Monday by newspaper Yeni Safak said Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage seen on trips to the U.S., 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 in recent days, including on Monday. Saudi Arabia so far has not acknowledged or explained Mutreb’s presence in Istanbul or the presence of a forensics and autopsy expert at the consulate before Khashoggi arrived.

Last week, a leaked photo apparently taken from surveillance footage showed Mutreb at the consulate, just ahead of Khashoggi’s arrival. Mutreb’s name also matches that of a first secretary who once served as a diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in London, according to a 2007 list compiled by the British Foreign Office.

By nightfall, Turkish police began searching an underground car parking garage in Istanbul’s Sultangazi district. Surveillance footage on TRT showed what Turkish security officials described as suspicious actions, including an image of a man moving a bag from one vehicle to another.

Meanwhile, Saudi state media reported that both Prince Mohammed and King Salman made calls to Khashoggi’s son, Salah, early Monday. 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 the 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 on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion. The Saudi statements did not acknowledge the ban.

Five Turkish employees of the consulate also gave testimony to prosecutors Monday, Turkish media reported. Istanbul’s chief prosecutor had summoned 28 more staff members of the Saudi Consulate, including Turkish citizens and foreign nationals, to give testimony. Some Turkish employees reportedly said they were instructed not to go to work around the time that Khashoggi disappeared.

From the Associated Press.

PRC’s growth slows as officials attempt to reassure investors

Photo by the Associated Press

The People’s Republic of China reported economic growth sank to a post-global crisis low as finance officials launched a media blitz Friday to shore up confidence in its sagging stock market.

Growth in the quarter that ended in September slipped to 6.5 percent over a year earlier from the previous quarter’s 6.7 percent, official data showed. It was the slowest rate since early 2009.

The world’s second-largest economy already was cooling before a tariff war between Beijing and President Donald Trump erupted.

Beijing tightened controls on lending last year to rein in a debt boom. That has weighed on housing sales and consumer spending. Car buyers are steering clear of dealerships.

Credit controls and trade tensions are “taking a bite out of economic momentum,” said Bill Adams of PNC Financial Services Group in a report.

The impact of President Trump’s penalty tariffs of up to 25 percent on PRC goods in a dispute over Beijing’s technology policy has contributed. With the rest of their $12 trillion-a-year economy slowing, the communist leadership has reversed course and ordered banks to lend.

“Downward pressure has increased,” a government spokesman, Mao Shengyong, said at a news conference.

Officials led by Communist China’s economic czar, Vice Premier Liu He, tried Friday to reassure investors about a stock market that has sagged 30 percent since January.

The decline is “creating good investment opportunities,” Liu said in comments carried by the official Xinhua News Agency and business newspapers and websites.

“China’s current economic fundamentals are good,” the central bank’s governor, Yi Gang, said on its website.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended the day up 2.6 percent.

The government also said insurers will be allowed to create products to help stabilize the market by reducing “liquidity risk.” That refers to fears lenders that accepted stock as collateral for loans might sell, flooding the market and driving a new price collapse.

Retail sales, factory output and investment in factories and equipment—bigger drivers of growth than exports—all weakened in the latest quarter.

The conflict with the District of Columbia has prompted PRC leaders to step up a marathon effort to encourage self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption and reduce reliance on exports and investment though the country has recently strengthened economic ties with Russia.

Beijing has cut tariffs, promised to lift curbs on foreign ownership of auto producers and taken other steps to rev up growth.

But leaders have refused to scrap plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for state-led creation of PRC champions in robotics and other technologies.

The United States, Europe and other trading partners say those violate Beijing’s market-opening commitments. But PRC leaders see them as a path to prosperity and global influence.

Regulators have ordered banks to step up lending, especially to entrepreneurs who create most of the PRC’s new jobs and wealth. Forecasters say it will take time for results to show.

Government support is “starting to gain traction,” but more will be needed to stabilize growth, Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report.

Washington has raised tariffs on $250 billion of PRC goods and President Trump says he might extend penalties to almost all imports from the PRC. Beijing responded with its own tariff hikes on $110 billion of American imports. But it is running out of goods for retaliation due to their lopsided trade balance.

Forecasters say that if all the tariff hikes both sides have threatened are imposed, that could cut Communist China’s 2019 growth by up to 0.3 percentage points.

The Trump administration argues that the PRC has more to lose in a trade war—and will face pressure to reach a truce because it exports more than it buys from the United States and because its economy is decelerating while the U.S. economy looks strong.

But Claude Barfield, scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, noted that the PRC’s growth rate “doesn’t seem to be anything close to a crisis.”

Exports to the United States rose 13 percent in September despite the tariff hikes, down slightly from August’s 13.4 percent, helping push the PRC’s politically volatile trade surplus with the United States to a record $34.1 billion.

Exporters of clothes and other lower-value goods say American orders began falling in April as trade tensions worsened. But makers of less price-sensitive exports such as factory equipment and medical technology are confident they can keep their market share.

Trade has shrunk as a share of the economy but still supports millions of jobs.

The government is promising to help struggling exporters.

“In general, the impact is limited,” a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Gao Feng, said Friday. “Governments at all levels will also take active measures to help enterprises and employees cope with possible difficulties.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Prince Harry opens memorial

Photo by the Associated Press

Prince Harry paid tribute to Australian service members by opening a new wing of a war memorial on Saturday before heading to a delayed opening of the Invictus Games as he and wife Meghan continued their visit to Australia and the South Pacific.

A thus-far joyous debut royal tour by the couple, buoyed by news that they are expecting their first baby, turned solemn as the Duke of Sussex opened a long-awaited extension to the Anzac Memorial in downtown Sydney’s Hyde Park on Saturday morning.

The former British army captain and his wife laid a wreath of Australian native flowers at the steps of the memorial, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison, other dignitaries, and service men and women looked on.

Harry and Meghan were then taken on a tour of the newly remodeled shrine, which was first opened in 1934 by Harry’s great-great uncle, Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, but was left incomplete due to a shortage of funds during the Great Depression. A project worth 40 million Australian dollars ($28.4 million) has finally realized the memorial’s original design.

In a handwritten signed note pinned to the wreath, Harry wrote, “In memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and in recognition of the men and women for whom the scars endure.”

Wearing the tropical dress of his regiment, the Blues and Royals, Harry unveiled a plaque that noted the extension was “opened by a grandson of the Queen.”

The wording was a nod to the original plaque Prince Henry unveiled 84 years ago, which noted that the memorial was “opened by the son of a king.”

Harry saluted as the Last Post rang out across Hyde Park, while Meghan, in a long black dress by New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead, stood beside him.

The royal couple later visited Sydney Harbour’s Cockatoo Island, where Harry delighted some children by joining them in playing with remote-controlled cars. The couple visited the island to watch an Invictus Games event—the Land Rover Driving Challenge.

Harry was scheduled to officially open the games in an early evening ceremony on the Sydney Opera House forecourt. That ceremony, however, was delayed after the city was lashed by a late afternoon thunderstorm.

The Invictus Games, Harry’s brainchild and the focus of this tour, were founded by the prince in 2014. The sporting event gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball, and to find inspiration to recover.

Harry and Meghan will also visit Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand during their 16-day tour.

From the Associated Press.

Saudis blame ‘fistfight’ for Jamal Khashoggi’s death

Photo by the Associated Press

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in a “fistfight” in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the kingdom claimed early Saturday, finally admitting that the writer had been slain at its diplomatic post. Authorities said 18 Saudi suspects were in custody and intelligence officials had been fired.

The overnight announcements in Saudi state media came more than two weeks after Khashoggi, 59, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancée, and never came out. They also contradicted assertions in Turkish media leaks that Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered inside the consulate, claims the kingdom had rejected as “baseless.”

But growing international pressure and comments by U.S. officials up to President Donald Trump forced the kingdom to acknowledge Khashoggi’s death.

While it fired officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia stopped short of implicating the heir-apparent of the world’s largest oil exporter. King Salman, his father, appointed him to lead a committee that will restructure the kingdom’s intelligence services after Khashoggi’s slaying. No major decisions in Saudi Arabia are made outside of the ultraconservative kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family.

The kingdom also offered a far different version of events than those given by Turkish officials, who have said an “assassination squad” from the kingdom including an official from Prince Mohammed’s entourage and an “autopsy expert” flew in ahead of time and laid in wait for Khashoggi at the consulate. Beyond its statements attributed to anonymous officials, Saudi Arabia offered no evidence to support its claims.

Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and royal court insider for decades in Saudi Arabia, had written columns for The Washington Post critical of Prince Mohammed and the kingdom’s direction while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S.

“God have mercy on you my love Jamal, and may you rest in Paradise,” Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted following the Saudi announcements.

In a statement Friday night, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. will closely follow international investigations into Khashoggi’s death and will advocate for justice that is “timely, transparent and in accordance with all due process.”

Trump meanwhile called the Saudi announcement a “good first step,” but said what happened to Khashoggi was “unacceptable.”

The announcements came in a flurry of statements carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency early Saturday morning.

“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Public Prosecution showed that the suspects had traveled to Istanbul to meet with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi as there were indications of the possibility of his returning back to the country,” the statement read. “Discussions took place with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the consulate of the kingdom in Istanbul by the suspects (that) did not go as required and developed in a negative way, leading to a fistfight. The brawl led to his death and their attempt to conceal and hide what happened.”

There’s been no indication Khashoggi had any immediate plans to return to the kingdom.

The Saudi statements did not identify the 18 Saudis being held by authorities and did not explain how so many people could have been involved in a fistfight. The statement also did not shed any light on what happened to Khashoggi’s body after his death.

“The kingdom expresses its deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place and stresses the commitment of the authorities in the kingdom to bring the facts to the public opinion, to hold all those involved accountable and bring them to justice,” the statement said.

The kingdom at the same time announced the firing of four top intelligence officials, including Maj. Gen. Ahmed bin Hassan Assiri, a one-time spokesman for the Saudi military’s campaign in Yemen who later became a confidant of Prince Mohammed.

Saud Qahtani, a powerful adviser to Prince Mohammed, also was fired. Qahtani had led Saudi efforts to isolate Qatar amid a boycott of the country by the kingdom and three other Arab nations as part of a political dispute.

On Twitter, where Qahtani had launched vitriolic attacks against those he saw as the kingdom’s enemies, he thanked the Saudi government for the “great opportunity they gave me to serve my country all those years.”

“I will remain a loyal servant to my country for all times,” he wrote.

Assiri had no immediate comment.

Earlier this week, the Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying, said a Saudi assassination squad seized the journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him. On Thursday, a leaked surveillance photo put Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage on trips to the U.S., France and Spain this year, at the consulate just ahead of Khashoggi’s arrival.

Turkish crime scene investigators this week searched the Saudi Consulate building in Istanbul and the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general, and came out carrying bags and boxes. On Friday, investigators questioned staff and explored whether his remains could have been dumped outside Istanbul after his suspected killing, Turkish media and a security official said.

Trump has said that the consequences for the Saudis “will have to be very severe” if they are found to have killed Khashoggi, but has insisted that more facts must be known before making any judgements. He dispatched U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this week to both Saudi Arabia and Turkey to speak to officials on the case.

The president has made close ties to the kingdom a priority since taking office. Trump made his first overseas trip as president to Saudi Arabia and has touted his arms sales to the kingdom. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, responsible for a coming peace proposal for Israel and the Palestinians, also has forged a close relationship with Prince Mohammed.

Trump’s previous warnings over the case drew an angry response Sunday from Saudi Arabia and its state-linked media, including a suggestion that Riyadh could wield its oil production as a weapon. The U.S. president wants King Salman and OPEC to boost production to drive down high oil prices, caused in part by the coming re-imposition of oil sanctions on Iran in November.

It’s unclear whether the Saudi announcement will be enough to staunch the criticism the kingdom faces from lawmakers in the U.S., its most-crucial ally. California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called Saudi Arabia’s claim that Khashoggi was “killed while brawling with a team of more than a dozen dispatched from Saudi Arabia is not credible.”

He was “fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who earlier this week said in a televised interview that Prince Mohammed “has got to go,” added: “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement.”

Human rights groups like Amnesty International separately have been calling for a United Nations investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.

“All along we were concerned about a whitewash, or an investigation by the entity suspected of involvement itself,” Amnesty’s Rawya Rageh said Saturday. “The impartiality of a Saudi investigation would remain in question.”

From the Associated Press.

U.S. worried by foreign voter-influence

U.S. intelligence officials said they are concerned about “ongoing campaigns” by Russia, China, Iran and other countries to undermine confidence in the American democratic process.

In a joint statement the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security Department, the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say they’re worried about activities that “seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making” in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

The agencies say the “ongoing campaigns” could take many forms. Examples include attempts to influence voters through social media, sponsoring content in English language media such as the Russian outlet RT (Russia Today), or “seeding disinformation through sympathetic spokespersons regarding political candidates and disseminating foreign propaganda.”

The joint statement follows recent reports throughout Texas accusing the Texas Democratic Party of sending voting applications with the citizenship box pre-checked to non-citizens, as reported by Fox News.

It also comes amid independent campaigns led by citizens in the United Kingdom and U.S. to expose private entities influencing elections like the Knights Templar International and their U.S.-based Knights Templar Order International group, which have been constantly reported on by the U.K.-based group IRBF.

Turkey questions Saudi Consulate staff in Khashoggi case

Photo by the Associated Press

Investigators on Friday questioned staff from the Saudi Consulate about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and explored whether his remains could have been dumped outside Istanbul after his suspected killing, Turkish media and a security official said.

Turkey’s foreign minister said his country would share some “evidence” with the rest of the world but rejected a report that it already has shared with the U.S. an alleged audio recording of the slaying of the columnist for The Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia has rejected reports that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate as baseless, but it faces growing pressure to explain what happened to him after he entered the consulate Oct. 2 for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancée. He has not been seen since.

Turkish crime scene investigators this week searched the building and the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general and came out carrying bags and boxes. The 15 Turkish employees brought to give testimony included the consul general’s driver, technicians, accountants and telephone operators, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

A journalist for the Associated Press saw a group of people leaving the consulate in a van. Later in the day, the same people were seen in video from a courthouse, where Turkish media said they had given testimony.

A Turkish official told AP that investigators are looking into the possibility that Khashoggi’s remains may have been taken outside Istanbul. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, the official said police have established that two vehicles belonging to the consulate left the building Oct. 2. One traveled to the Belgrade Forest on the city’s outskirts, while the other went to the city of Yalova, across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul, the official said.

It was not immediately clear if police had already searched those locations.

Turkish officials have released few details about the investigation, but pro-government media have published surveillance video and other material suggesting Khashoggi, whose 60th birthday was Oct. 13, was killed by an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prominent journalist had written columns critical of the Saudi government while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying, said the squad immediately accosted the journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that it “certainly looks” as though Khashoggi is dead, and that the consequences for the Saudis “will have to be very severe” if they are found to have killed him.

Saudi Arabia has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the AP and other news agencies in recent days over Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Citing an anonymous senior Turkish official, ABC News reported Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heard the alleged recording during meetings in Turkey this week and received a transcript of it. Pompeo dismissed that report, telling reporters on a plane to Mexico that he’s neither seen nor heard such a recording.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denied sharing any audio recordings with U.S. officials, saying “it’s out of the question” for Turkey to share material from the investigation with the U.S. or other countries at this stage.

“Of course, as a result of the investigation so far, Turkey does have some information and evidence,” he said. “We will share them with the world when they become fully clear because the whole world, understandably, wants to know what happened to Khashoggi and how it happened.”

Earlier this week, Trump said the U.S. has asked for the recording “if it exists.”

Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper on Friday printed more surveillance camera photos showing members of the group of Saudis who arrived Oct. 2. A leaked surveillance photo published by the paper Thursday showed that a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage during several trips abroad had walked into the Saudi Consulate, just before Khashoggi vanished. The man, identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, has been photographed in the background of Prince Mohammed’s trips to the United States, France and Spain this year.

Khashoggi’s disappearance has rattled Saudi Arabia’s relations with the West. Senior government officials from the U.S., France, Britain and the Netherlands have withdrawn from a high-profile investment conference to be held next week in Riyadh. Several top business executives have also cancelled their plans to attend, as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Prime Minister Imran Khan would attend the conference and meet with Saudi King Salman. Khan has been trying to secure bailout loans from IMF to avoid an economic meltdown and is also seeking loans from Riyadh.

From the Associated Press

Royal wedding outfits go on display

Photo by the Associated Press

The outfits worn by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at their wedding are going on public display later this year at the ceremony’s venue, Windsor Castle.

Royal fashion fans will be able to get a close look at the bride’s silk Givenchy wedding dress and 16 foot (5 meter) veil, as well as the diamond-and-platinum tiara loaned to Meghan by Queen Elizabeth II.

There will also be a copy of the frock coat uniform of the Blues and Royals regiment that Harry wore for the May 19 service, which was watched by millions across the globe.

The exhibition “A Royal Wedding: The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex” will be at Windsor Castle from Oct. 26 to Jan. 6, and at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland, from June 14 to Oct. 6, 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.