WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump said it "certainly looks" like missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and warned of "very severe" consequences for the killing.
Mr Trump said his administration is "waiting for the results of about three different investigations" as it decides how to respond amid reports that the US-based journalist was ambushed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, then tortured, killed and dismembered.
"I mean, it's bad, bad stuff," Mr Trump told reporters on Thursday. "But we'll see what happens."
The comments were the latest sign that the administration is under increasing pressure to act more than two weeks after Mr Khashoggi, who wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, went missing.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier in the day withdrew from an investment conference in Riyadh after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo briefed him and Mr Trump following a hastily planned trip to Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Monday.
Mr Pompeo on Thursday denied an ABC News report that he had heard audio of the alleged murder and was given a transcript of the recording. "I've heard no tape, I've seen no transcript," he told reporters on a plane en route to Mexico. Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it would be "out of the question" for Turkey to share a voice recording with Mr Pompeo or other US officials.
Police search forest, coastal city
ANKARA • Turkish police have searched a forest on the outskirts of Istanbul and a city near the Sea of Marmara for remains of a Saudi dissident journalist who disappeared two weeks ago after entering the Saudi consulate, two Turkish officials said.
Investigators have also recovered "many samples" from their searches of the consulate and the consul's residence, they said, and will attempt to analyse those for traces of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's DNA.
Saudi Arabia has denied allegations by Turkish officials who have said Mr Khashoggi was killed inside the building and his body removed. His disappearance and likely death caused an international outcry and strained relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States and European countries.
The authorities widened the geographic focus of the search after tracking the routes and stops of cars that left the Saudi consulate and the consul's residence on Oct 2, the day Mr Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist who was a strong critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen, the senior officials said.
Mr Khashoggi's alleged killers may have dumped his remains in Belgrad Forest, adjacent to Istanbul, and at a rural location near the city of Yalova, a 90km drive south of Istanbul, the officials said.
"The investigations led to some suspicion that his remains may be in the city of Yalova and the Belgrad forest, police have been searching these areas," one of the officials said. A "farm house or villa" may have been used for the disposal of remains, the official added.
Following a day of meetings on Tuesday with King Salman and Prince Mohammed, Mr Pompeo said the Saudi leaders understood the importance of producing a quick but thorough report on Mr Khashoggi's fate.
The Trump administration has given the Saudis two days to provide an explanation of what happened to Mr Khashoggi, who will be held accountable and what consequences they will face, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A Western boycott of the major business conference in Riyadh next week suggests rising political risks in Saudi Arabia could harm its ambitions to attract foreign capital and diversify its economy away from oil. Saudi rulers are considering blaming a top intelligence official close to Prince Mohammed for the apparent killing, the New York Times reported, citing three unidentified people with knowledge of Saudi plans.
So grave is the fallout from the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi that King Salman has felt compelled to intervene, five sources with links to the Saudi royal family said.
Last week, the King dispatched his most trusted aide, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, governor of Mecca, to Istanbul to try to defuse the crisis.
During Prince Khaled's visit, Turkey and Saudi Arabia agreed to form a joint working group to investigate Mr Khashoggi's disappearance. The King later ordered the Saudi public prosecutor to open an inquiry based on its findings.
Since he acceded to the throne in January 2015, the King has given Prince Mohammed, his favourite son, increasing authority to run Saudi Arabia.