By Gulsen Solaker and Susan Heavey
ANKARA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Turkey and the United States vowed on Tuesday to get to the bottom of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and punish those responsible, after Saudi Arabia admitted that the prominent journalist died during a Saudi security operation in Istanbul.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan dismissed Saudi efforts to blame the murder on rogue operatives and urged Riyadh to search "from top to bottom" to uncover those behind it, while U.S. Vice President Mike Pence described the killing as "barbaric."
Graphic on Khashoggi killing - https://tmsnrt.rs/2NZDmEN
Khashoggi's death in the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 has caused global outrage and raised questions about the possible role of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia who tightly controls the kingdom's security services.
Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and critic of the crown prince, was killed and dismembered inside the consulate by Saudi agents.
Erdogan stopped short of mentioning the crown prince who some U.S. lawmakers suspect ordered the killing of the Washington Post columnist.
"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 said 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," he said, adding that Riyadh needed to "uncover all those responsible for this matter from top to bottom."
Graphic on House of Saud - https://tmsnrt.rs/2OGPHTB
Turkish sources have said that authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting the killing. Erdogan made no reference to any audio recording.
Riyadh initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi's fate before saying he was killed in a fight in the consulate, a reaction that has met with scepticism from several Western governments, straining their relations with the world's biggest oil exporter.
The kingdom has since changed parts of its official narrative about the killing, further deepening international concern.
A Saudi cabinet meeting chaired by King Salman said Riyadh would hold to account those responsible for the killing and those who failed in their duties, whoever they were.
Turkish investigators searched a Saudi consulate vehicle in Istanbul that contained two suitcases and other items, according to broadcaster CNN Turk. It was not clear what was in the suitcases.
'BRUTAL MURDER' - PENCE
“I want to assure the American people: we’re going to get to the bottom of it. This brutal murder of a journalist, of an innocent man, of a dissident will not go without an American response and, I expect, without an international response," Pence said at an event hosted by The Washington Post.
He said U.S. President Donald Trump would ultimately decide whether to impose economic sanctions on Saudi Arabia once all the facts were available, and called the killing "barbaric."
A host of Western executives and governments have pulled out of a high-profile Saudi investment summit that started on Tuesday because of the Khashoggi affair.
The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations called for a thorough and credible investigation, saying Saudi Arabia must ensure such an incident could never happen again.
The Saudi king and crown prince received Khashoggi family members including his son Salah bin Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh, state news agency SPA reported.
Erdogan said the killing was planned from when the 59-year-old Khashoggi first went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Sept. 28 to obtain documents necessary for his marriage. He was told he would need to return later to collect the documents.
A day before Khashoggi's death, agents arrived from overseas and began to scout locations, including the Belgrad Forest near Istanbul and the city of Yalova to its south, Erdogan said. Police have searched both areas for evidence of Khashoggi's remains, Reuters has reported.
On the day Khashoggi arrived for his appointment and was later killed, the hard disk in the consulate's camera system was removed, Erdogan said.
"Covering up a savage murder like this will only hurt the human conscience. We expect the same sensitivity from all parties, primarily the Saudi Arabian leadership."
"We have strong signs that the murder was the result of a planned operation, not a spontaneous development."
On the day of the killing, 15 people went to the consulate, including security, intelligence and forensic experts, Erdogan said. Consulate personnel were given the day off.
"Why did these 15 people meet in Istanbul on the day of the murder? We are seeking answers to this. Who are these people receiving orders from?" Erdogan said. He added that he wanted Saudi Arabia to send the suspects to Turkey for trial.
The White House and the State Department did not respond to a request for comment on Erdogan's remarks.
Trump has played down any suggestion that the crown prince was involved in the killing but has also warned of possible economic sanctions. Trump has repeatedly highlighted the kingdom's importance as a U.S. ally and called Prince Mohammed a strong and passionate leader.
King Salman, 82, has handed the day-to-day running of Saudi Arabia to the 33-year-old prince.
Trump spoke with Prince Mohammed on Sunday. He told reporters on Monday that he had teams in Saudi Arabia and Turkey working on the case and would know more about it after they returned to Washington on Monday night or Tuesday.
CIA Director Gina Haspel was travelling to Turkey on Monday to work on the Khashoggi investigation.
On Saturday, Saudi state media said King Salman had fired five officials over the killing, including Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide who ran social media for Prince Mohammed. Riyadh is also working with Turkey on a joint investigation.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Ezgi Erkoyun, Daren Butler, Ali Kucukgocmen and Sarah Dadouch in Istanbul and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by David Dolan and Alistair Bell; Editing by Jon Boyle, Andrew Roche, Toni Reinhold)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2018 03:06:24 IST