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Missing Saudi journalist dismembered, then decapitated

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Turkish forensic and investigation officers at the Saudi Consul's residence in Istanbul. Mr Khashoggi has not been seen since he stepped inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 to sort out paperwork for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman.

Ankara

SAUDI Arabia faced new claims that missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul consulate.

Pro-government Turkish media published gruesome new allegations that Mr Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi assassination squad, some of whom The New York Times said were tied to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The daily Yeni Safak reported it had heard audio recordings of Mr Khashoggi being tortured during an interrogation, having his fingers cut off and then being decapitated.

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It claimed Saudi consul Mohammed al-Otaibi can be heard on one tape saying during the torture: "Do this outside. You are going to get me in trouble."

The New York Times reported that a suspect identified by Turkey was a frequent companion of the prince's. Three other suspects are linked to his security detail and a fifth is a high-level forensic doctor.

These revelations came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday held talks with the Turkish leadership in Ankara over the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi. But the US has refused to rebuke its ally despite the mounting claims, with President Donald Trump insisting on the principle of innocence before being proven guilty.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also taken a circumspect line in the case, saying his priority is to uncover the truth through an investigation.

The controversy has blown a massive hole in attempts by Prince Mohammed to promote himself as a modern reformer and led to a spate of cancellations from a major Riyadh investment conference scheduled for next week.

Mr Khashoggi has not been seen since he stepped inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 to sort out paperwork for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman.

Turkish police on Monday night undertook an eight-hour search at the consulate, taking away soil and DNA samples, although a search expected on Tuesday at the consul's residence has so far not taken place because Saudi officials were unable to join. But an 11-member Saudi investigation team has arrived at the Saudi consul's Istanbul residence on Wednesday, broadcaster CNN Turk reported.

Interviewed by state-run Anadolu news agency, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu refused to be drawn into commenting on what may have happened inside the consulate. "I have my own opinions. I have strong opinions but that (the investigation) is the job of the judiciary," he said, adding that the search of the residence would take place only when there is a joint agreement with Riyadh.

Mr Trump meanwhile refused to accuse Saudi Arabia over the case, drawing a parallel with the case of new US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh who had faced a swirl of allegations of sexual assault.

"Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent," he said. "I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned," he told the Associated Press.

Several US media reported on Monday that the Saudis are preparing a report that Mr Khashoggi's death resulted from a botched interrogation. However there has yet to be any sign of this being published. AFP, REUTERS