UPDATE – US senators call for probe over missing Saudi columnist

ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT

By Servet Gunerigok

WASHINGTON (AA) – Four top U.S. senators triggered an investigation Wednesday into the disappearance of a Saudi journalist under a U.S. law intended to hold human rights abusers to account.

U.S. President Donald Trump has 120 days to report back to Sens. Bob Corker, Bob Menendez, Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy after they sent him a letter requesting a probe under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

Jamal Khashoggi has not been heard from since Oct. 2, when he visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, amid speculation that he was killed by Saudi authorities.

In a letter, the minority and majority leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the leaders of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the State Department called on Trump to determine whether imposing sanctions "with respect to any foreign person responsible for such a violation related to Mr. Khashoggi" is warranted.

"The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of internationally recognized human rights," the senators wrote in the letter, which was co-signed by a group of 18 bipartisan senators.

"Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia," they added.

The Magnitsky Act, passed in 2012 after a Russian whistleblower died in custody in circumstances that remain dubious, requires the president to conduct an investigation to determine if sanctions are warranted to respond to human rights abuses.

Trump said earlier Wednesday that he spoke at the "highest" levels to Saudi officials about Khashoggi's disappearance but did not specify with whom he has been in conversation with.

Addressing reporters at the White House, Trump said the U.S. will "get to the bottom of" the journalist's mysterious vanishing.

"I'm not happy about this. We have to see what happens," Trump said, adding that the U.S. has been in contact with Turkish officials about the case.

Saudi authorities have yet to give a clear explanation on the fate of Khashoggi while several countries — particularly Turkey, the U.S. and the UK — have expressed their desire that the matter should be elucidated as soon as possible.

According to his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi first arrived at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Sept. 28. After being told his documents would be ready in a week, Khashoggi went to London and returned to Istanbul on Oct. 1.

Khashoggi called the consulate and was told "that documents are being prepared" and he could come to the consulate. He went to the diplomatic building on Oct. 2 with Cengiz but was not seen after entering it.

On the same day, 15 Saudis, including several officials, arrived in Istanbul on two planes and visited the consulate while Khashoggi was also inside, police sources said.

All of the identified individuals have since left Turkey.

*Michael Hernandez contributed to this report

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