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Speculation Centers On Saudi Involvement In Journalist's Disappearance


We are learning more this morning about what may have happened to the missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last week. That much we know. But he has not been seen since. Khashoggi wrote for The Washington Post and had been living in the U.S.

The Post is reporting that at one point, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered Saudi agents to lure Khashoggi back to the country. Saudi officials continue to deny any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance. We are joined now by Kareem Fahim. He is The Washington Post correspondent in Istanbul who's been following this story closely. Thanks so much for being with us, Kareem.

KAREEM FAHIM: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Your reporting - that of your colleague - shows that the U.S. intelligence community knew at one point that Saudi Arabia was trying to get Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. Why were they trying to get him back? And how were they trying to get him back?

FAHIM: Yeah. So as you say, the U.S. has gathered intelligence that showed that the crown prince ordered this operation to lure him from Virginia back to Saudi Arabia. And U.S. officials told my colleague that intelligence intercepts had captured Saudi officials discussing this plan. It's pretty significant. And it appears to confirm that the Saudi leadership, at the highest levels, was seeking to silence Jamal. He had written columns in - over the last year in The Washington Post criticizing some of the monarchy's policies, including the arrest of women's rights advocates there.

And the Saudis have said that they have nothing to do with this disappearance and, you know, even that they were friendly with him. And they're now worried about his safety. But the intelligence intercepts obviously undercut those assertions. And they - and they really add to the growing pressure on the Saudi government now to explain what happened here.

MARTIN: Right. So let me ask you - so basically, you and your colleagues are reporting that what happened in Istanbul, his disappearance at that consulate, could in some way be, like, a backup plan. Clearly, they weren't able to get him back to Saudi voluntarily. So allegedly, they've kidnapped him when he was in Turkey?

FAHIM: I mean, certainly those intelligence intercepts have raised that possibility. You know, there's been very little hard evidence about what happened inside that consulate.

MARTIN: Right.

FAHIM: But there is this theory that what happened inside may have been part of a backup plan to capture him that somehow went wrong.

MARTIN: So U.S. senators have now triggered something called the Magnitsky Act, which requires the White House to put sanctions on whomever is responsible for his disappearance, even if it's the top leadership in Saudi. But how do we find that out? Who is actually leading the investigation to find out the truth? Is it the Turks? Is it the U.S.? Are they working together?

FAHIM: Yeah, the Turks are leading an investigation. They are gathering evidence from various locations around Istanbul. And they say that they will present their findings when the time is right. But, you know, all of this has raised questions about whether the U.S. had a duty to warn Jamal about the details of the plot that they discovered. And it's also, you know, been embarrassing for the Trump administration, which has cultivated very close ties with the crown prince and held him up as this potentially transformative leader in the Middle East.

MARTIN: Kareem Fahim of The Washington Post from his bureau in Istanbul. Thank you so much.

FAHIM: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.