Beirut, Oct 8 (AP/UNB) — Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who disappeared last week after a visit to his country's consulate in Turkey, was once a Saudi insider. A close aide to the kingdom's former spy chief, he had been a leading voice in the country's prominent dailies, including the main English newspapers.
Now the 59-year-old journalist and contributor to The Washington Post is feared dead, and Turkish authorities believe he was slain inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, something Saudi officials vehemently deny.
The U.S.-educated Khashoggi was no stranger to controversy.
A graduate of Indiana State University, Khashoggi began his career in the 1980s, covering the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the decade-long war that followed for the English-language daily Saudi Gazette. He traveled extensively in the Middle East, covering Algeria's 1990s war against Islamic militants, and the Islamists rise in Sudan.
He interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before al-Qaida was formed, then met him in Sudan in 1995. Following bin Laden's rise likely helped cement Khashoggi's ties with powerful former Saudi spy chief, Turki Al-Faisal.
Khashoggi rubbed shoulders with the Saudi royal family and supported efforts to nudge the kingdom's entrenched ultra-conservative clerics to accept reforms. He served as an editor for nine years on the Islamist-leaning al-Madina newspaper and was frequently quoted in the Western media as an expert on Islamic radicals and a reformist voice.
However, he was fired from his post as an editor at Al-Watan, a liberal paper founded after the 9/11 terror attacks, just two months after he took the job in 2003. The country's ultra-conservative clerics had pushed back against his criticism of the powerful religious police and Ibn Taymiyah, a medieval cleric viewed as the spiritual forefather of Wahhabism, the conservative interpretation of Islam that is the founding tenant of the kingdom.
Khoshaggi then served as media adviser to Al-Faisal, the former spy chief, who was at the time the ambassador to the United States.
Khashoggi returned to Al-Watan in 2007, where he continued his criticism of the clerics as the late King Abdullah implemented cautious reforms to try to shake their hold. Three years later, he was forced to resign again after a series of articles criticizing Salafism, the ultra-conservative Sunni Islam movement from which Wahhabism stems.
In 2010, Saudi billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal tapped him to lead his new TV station, touted as a rival to Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera, a staunch critic of the kingdom. But the new Al-Arab station, based in Bahrain, was shut down hours after it launched, for hosting a Bahraini opposition figure.
Khoshaggi's final break with the Saudi authorities followed the Arab Spring protests that swept through the region in 2011, shaking the power base of traditional leaders and giving rise to Islamists, only to be followed by unprecedented crackdowns on those calling for change. Siding with the opposition in Egypt and Syria, Khashoggi became a vocal critic of his own government's stance there and a defender of moderate Islamists, which Riyadh considered an existential threat.
"This was a critical period in Arab history. I had to take a position. The Arab world had waited for this moment of freedom for a thousand years," Khashoggi told a Turkey-based Syrian opposition television station last month, just days before he disappeared.
He also criticized his government's diplomatic break with Qatar and war on Yemen as well as Riyadh's policy toward its archenemy, Iran, whose influence has grown in neighboring Yemen and in Syria.
In the Sept. 23 interview, he called Saudi Arabia's foreign policy "narrow minded," and ridiculed its crackdown on political Islam, urging the kingdom to realign its policy to partner with Turkey, a close Qatar ally.
"Saudi is the mother and father of political Islam. It is based on political Islam," Khoshaggi said. "The only recipe to get Iranians out of Syria — it is not Trump or anyone else— it is through the support of the Syrian revolution. ... Saudi Arabia must return to supporting the Syrian revolution and partnering with Turkey on this."
Eight days later, on Oct. 2, he disappeared while on a visit to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée. The consulate insists the writer left its premises alive, contradicting Turkish officials.
Before his disappearance, Khoshaggi had been living since last year in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, after he fled the kingdom amid a crackdown on intellectuals and activists who criticized policies of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
"As of now, I would say Mohammed bin Salman is acting like Putin. He is imposing very selective justice," Khashoggi wrote in the Post last year after he fled the kingdom, saying he feared returning home.
He described "dramatic" scenes of arrest of government critics accused of receiving Qatari funding. They included a friend of Khashoggi's who had just returned from a trip to the U.S. as part of an official Saudi delegation.
"That is how breathtakingly fast you can fall out of favor with Saudi Arabia," he wrote.
Istanbul, Oct 7 (AP/UNB) — Turkish investigators believe a prominent Saudi journalist who contributed to The Washington Post was killed in "a preplanned murder" at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, the Post reported Saturday night, citing two anonymous officials.
Saudi authorities called the allegation "baseless."
One Turkish official also told The Associated Press that detectives' "initial assessment" was that Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the consulate, without elaborating.
Khashoggi, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the last year, vanished Tuesday while on a visit to the consulate. His disappearance has threatened to upend already-fraught relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and it raises new questions about the kingdom and the actions of its assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi wrote critically about in his columns.
"If the reports of Jamal's murder are true, it is a monstrous and unfathomable act," the Post's editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement. "Jamal was — or, as we hope, is — a committed, courageous journalist. He writes out of a sense of love for his country and deep faith in human dignity and freedom."
The Post cited one anonymous official who said investigators believe a 15-member team "came from Saudi Arabia." The official added: "It was a preplanned murder."
A Turkish official, requesting anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press earlier Saturday night something similar.
"The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr. Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul," the official said. "We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate."
Khashoggi, 59, went missing while on a visit to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée. The consulate insists the writer left its premises, contradicting Turkish officials.
"Jamal is not dead! I don't believe he's been killed!" his fiancée Hatice wrote on Twitter late Saturday night.
Turkey's official Anadolu News Agency said Saturday that the Istanbul public prosecutor's office began a probe into Khashoggi's disappearance Tuesday, immediately after he went missing. It added the investigation over allegations that the writer was detained had "deepened," without elaborating.
The Saudi government news agency said quoted an unnamed official at the Istanbul consulate denying the "baseless allegations" and expressing doubt they came from Turkish officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The official said Saudi Arabia had sent a team of investigators to help look into the case.
Khashoggi is a longtime Saudi journalist, foreign correspondent, editor and columnist whose work has been controversial in the past in the ultraconservative Sunni kingdom. He went into self-imposed exile in the United States following the ascension of Prince Mohammed, now next in line to succeed his father, the 82-year-old King Salman.
As a contributor to the Post, Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. All those issues have been viewed as being pushed by Prince Mohammed, who similarly has led roundups of activists, businessmen and others in the kingdom.
"With young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power, he promised an embrace of social and economic reform," Khashoggi wrote in his first column for the Post. "But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests."
Khashoggi was known for his interviews and travels with Osama bin Laden between 1987 and 1995, including in Afghanistan, where he wrote about the battle against the Soviet occupation. In the early 1990s, he tried to persuade bin Laden to reconcile with the Saudi royal family and return home from his base in Sudan, but the al-Qaida leader refused.
Khashoggi maintained ties with Saudi elites, including those in its intelligence apparatus, and launched a satellite news channel, Al-Arab, from Bahrain in 2015 with the backing of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The channel was on air for less than 11 hours before it was shut down. Its billionaire backer was detained in the Ritz Carlton roundup overseen by Prince Mohammed in 2017.
The dispute over Khashoggi's disappearance also threatens to reopen rifts between Ankara and Riyadh. Turkey has supported Qatar amid a yearlong boycott by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over a political dispute. Turkey's support of political Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, also angers leaders in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which label the organization a "terrorist group" threatening their hereditarily ruled nations.
Press freedom groups have decried Khashoggi's disappearance. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, who sits on the Senate's Committee on Foreign Affairs, expressed shock over the news.
"If this is true — that the Saudis lured a U.S. resident into their consulate and murdered him — it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia," Murphy wrote on Twitter.
Tehran, Oct 4 (AP/UNB) — Iran's supreme leader says the Islamic Republic will "slap" the United States by defeating new American sanctions targeting the nation.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comments Thursday in a speech in Tehran before thousands of members of the Basij, an all-volunteer force under Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
Khamenei says he heard President Donald Trump tell European leaders that the Islamic Republic would collapse in the coming months over American sanctions, something he dismissed. The sanctions have hurt Iran's already ailing economy and have fueled the depreciation of its rial currency.
Khamenei also warned that media controlled by foreign enemies could be as dangerous as "chemical weapons."
Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Guard's expeditionary Quds Force, attended the speech with the head of the Guard, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari.
Bajil, Oct 4 (AP/UNB) — With American backing, the United Arab Emirates has resumed an all-out offensive aimed at capturing Yemen's most vital port, Hodeida, where Shiite rebels are digging in to fight to the last man. Thousands of civilians are caught in the middle, trapped by minefields and barrages of mortars and airstrikes.
If the array of Yemeni militias backed by the UAE takes the city, it would be their biggest victory against the rebels, known as Houthis, after a long stalemate in the three-year-old civil war.
But the battle on the Red Sea coast also threatens to throw Yemen into outright famine.
Hodeida's port literally keeps millions of starving Yemenis alive, as the entry point for 70 percent of food imports and international aid. More than 8 million of Yemen's nearly 29 million people have no food other than what is provided by world relief agencies, a figure that continues to rapidly rise.
A protracted siege could cut off that lifeline. The battle has already killed hundreds of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, adding to the more than 2 million Yemenis displaced by the war. Amid the fighting, cholera cases in the area leaped from 497 in June to 1,347 in August, Save the Children reported Tuesday.
The assault first began in June, then paused in August as the U.N. envoy for Yemen tried to cobble together peace talks, the first in two years. That attempt fell apart, and the offensive resumed in mid-September.
The United States effectively gave a green light to push ahead when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sept. 12 certified continued American support for the Saudi-led coalition's air campaign against the Houthis. The coalition has come under heavy criticism for its relentless airstrikes since 2015, which U.N. experts say have caused the majority of the estimated 10,000 civilian deaths in the conflict and could constitute a war crime. Several strikes in August killed dozens of children.
Pompeo declared that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were taking adequate measures to minimize civilian deaths. The U.S. supports the coalition with intelligence and air-to-air refueling for its warplanes, as well as with billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE — as well as the United States — say their campaign aims to restore the recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and thwart what they contend is an attempt by Iran to seize control in Yemen through the rebels. Iran denies that the Houthis are its proxy.
But the resulting war has pushed Yemen into the world's worst humanitarian disaster, fragmentation and chaos.
A coalition victory at Hodeida would be the first breakthrough after more than two years of deadlock.
After the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, and surged south in early 2015, the coalition launched its campaign, pushing them back. Since then, front lines have hardly moved, with the Houthis firmly in control of the north.
The notable exception has been on the Red Sea coast, where since December, UAE-backed forces have battled their way toward Hodeida.
The UAE says taking the port will force the Houthis to the negotiating table.
Hodeida's fall would cost the rebels a major source of income, since they heavily tax commodities and aid coming from the port. That cash has helped them finance their fight and the iron fist they wield in their territory.
But if the Houthis won't negotiate, the coalition faces an even tougher fight into the rebel-held north.
It took two years for the coalition to reach Hodeida, so "how many months or years will it take for this same collection of — often competing and opposed — militias to make their way through Yemen's mountains toward the capital of Sanaa?" said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.
The two sides have pounded each other for months, as some 22,000 UAE-backed Yemeni fighters inch across the flat coastal plain to the city's edges. The force is mainly made up of militiamen from the south or the Hodeida area, backed by tanks and coalition warplanes. They face an estimated 5,000 Houthi fighters.
The coalition fighters are currently trying to encircle the city. But they have hit ferocious resistance at Kilo 16, a point on the main highway heading east from Hodeida to Sanaa. Despite two weeks of fighting, the forces have failed to fully capture it.
The fighting has partially shut the highway, which is not only a key Houthi supply line but also vital for importers and humanitarian agencies moving goods.
Every piece of ground has been gained only with heavy bloodshed. One military official estimated 1,300 fighters killed from the two sides in just the past few weeks. The defending Houthis, working in small units to avoid airstrikes, attack from hiding in foliage. Haydari al-Subaihi, a coalition-backed fighter, recounted how 30 of his comrades were killed at once when a mortar shell hit their position.
Coalition airstrikes also reap a heavy toll.
"We find vast lands littered with the bodies of the Houthis, many charred from airstrikes," said Mansour al-Lahji, another Emirati-backed militiaman.
"THE WORLD TOPPLED ON OUR HEADS"
Thousands of civilians have been caught in the middle, unable to escape their homes because of heavy bombardment by both sides and the Houthis' minefields.
In Durayhimi, just south of Hodeida city, around 20,000 people remain trapped. Food, fuel and water have run short, and aid agencies cannot reach them, a health official who fled the district said.
Houthis in the district have buried dead fighters and civilians in mass graves, the official said. "When one grave is full, they dig another," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Saadia Ibrahim, a grandmother in her 60s, said that as her family fled their village, a Houthi mortar hit near their home, killing three of her relatives. As they drove off, another explosion — she doesn't know what it was — blasted the car, killing four more and throwing her through the air. Wounded by shrapnel, she was rescued by one of her sons on a motorcycle and taken to Bajil, a nearby town crowded with families fleeing the fighting.
"We fled right and left, and then the world toppled on our heads," she said.
The fighting has displaced half a million of the 2.6 million people living in the province where Hodeida is located. Documented civilian deaths in Hodeida spiked to an average 116 a month in June, July and August, up from 44 a month in the first five months of the year, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a monitoring group cited by U.N. agencies.
The actual toll is likely far higher.
Hodeida port has so far kept operating. The UAE has said it will work to ensure the port stays open, preparing airdrops of food if necessary.
Coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki told the AP that once the city is captured, the coalition will ease restrictions on ships entering the port, which now face long delays as a U.N. team inspects them to prevent weapon transfers to the Houthis. Port revenues will go to the government, allowing it to pay salaries of its employees, he said.
More and more Yemenis are starving simply because they can't afford to buy food in an economy that has been demolished by fighting, airstrikes and a coalition blockade. With the currency in freefall, the U.N. has warned that soon another 3.5 million people will need international aid.
Hodeida's fighting has endangered the lifeline. The battle at Kilo 16 forced aid supplies to take longer routes out, slowing deliveries. Also, aid agencies can't reach the nearby Red Sea Mills, one of Yemen's largest granaries, where enough grain to feed 3.5 million people for a month is stored.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The battle brings in to sharp relief a question hanging over the war: What will be the shape of Yemen after all the destruction it has wreaked?
Notably absent from the fight to take Hodeida are the forces of Hadi's government — the government that the coalition says it aims to restore. Several pro-Hadi officials told the AP that the UAE squeezed him out.
"The government knows nothing about what is going on in Hodeida," one senior official said. "It's all in the hands of the Emiratis." He and the other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivities of relations with the Emirates.
Mistrust runs deep between Hadi's government and the UAE, which has set up military bases across southern Yemen and controls much of the south through the militias it funds. Some Hadi allies accuse the UAE of seeking to impose its own dominion over Yemen — and see the assault on Hodeida as adding another piece to its hold over the country's coastline.
Houthi-free southern Yemen has turned into a patchwork of splintered regions under rival militias. Aden, the southern capital, has seen assassinations and street battles between pro-UAE and pro-Hadi militias, as well as increasing crime, robbery and rape.
The fragmentation has sent a message to Yemenis living under the Houthis' repressive rule that the alternative may not be much better.
"Many Yemenis resent what they see as a neo-colonial land and resource grab," said Horton. "Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have carved out spheres of influence."
Dubai, Oct 3 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump says Saudi Arabia's king "might not be there for two weeks" without U.S. military support, as he sought to pressure the close American ally over rising oil prices.
Speaking at a campaign rally Tuesday night in Mississippi, Trump said: "I love the king, King Salman, but I said, 'King, we're protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military, you have to pay.'"
Trump didn't elaborate on when he spoke to the king. Trump and King Salman last shared a reported telephone call on Saturday.
Benchmark Brent crude oil is near $85 a barrel — a four-year high — and analysts say it could reach $100. U.S. gasoline prices are up ahead of November midterm elections.