ISTANBUL • The fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has said she did not accept an invitation from US President Donald Trump to visit the White House because she thought it was aimed at influencing public opinion in his favour.
In her first television interview since the killing, Ms Hatice Cengiz last Friday recounted the events leading up to their visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2, where Mr Khashoggi handed her his two mobile phones and went inside while she waited outside for him to emerge.
Mr Khashoggi, 59, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared after entering the consulate to obtain paperwork necessary for his upcoming marriage to Ms Cengiz, a Turkish national.
After weeks of denying knowledge of his whereabouts, and changing its story a number of times, Riyadh has said his killing was premeditated.
"Trump invited me to the United States but I perceived it as a statement to win public favour," Ms Cengiz told broadcaster Haberturk, pausing at times during an interview and more than once breaking down in tears.
Mr Trump and Prince Mohammed have cultivated warm ties, though the US President said earlier last week that the Crown Prince, as the kingdom's de facto ruler, bore ultimate responsibility for the operation against Mr Khashoggi.
Mr Trump also said Riyadh had staged the "worst cover-up ever" over the killing.
Ms Cengiz said Mr Khashoggi was concerned tensions would arise when he visited the consulate for the first time on Sept 28, but he was treated well at that visit, which appeared to reassure him, she said.
"I know he had questions in mind about whether something untoward could actually happen at the consulate," she told Haberturk.
He later assumed he would not ultimately be arrested or harmed in Turkey, she said.
"His local network in Turkey was very good as you know, his political network as well," Ms Cengiz said.
"He thought Turkey is a safe country and if he would be held or interrogated, this issue would be swiftly solved."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia last Friday to disclose who ordered Mr Khashoggi's murder, as well as the location of his body, heightening international pressure on the kingdom to come clean on the case.
Riyadh yesterday dismissed Ankara's calls to extradite 18 Saudis wanted for the murder of Mr Khashoggi, as Washington warned that the crisis risked destabilising the Middle East.
"The individuals are Saudi nationals. They're detained in Saudi Arabia, and the investigation is in Saudi Arabia, and they will be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia," Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a regional defence forum in Bahrain.
Gruesome reports have alleged that Mr Khashoggi was murdered and his body dismembered by a team sent from Saudi Arabia to silence the columnist, who had criticised Prince Mohammed.
Five intelligence chiefs have been sacked over his death, including two who were part of the Crown Prince's inner circle.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who was also addressing the Manama forum, warned that "the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a diplomatic facility must concern us all greatly".
"Failure of any nation to adhere to international norms and the rule of law undermines regional stability at a time when it is needed most," he stressed.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE