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EXCLUSIVE: Local friend of missing journalist fights for justice

October 19, 2018 06:13 AM

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced 'it certainly looks like ' the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead. 

The Washington Post journalist was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2. Turkish officials allege the journalist was dismembered alive under orders of the royal court. 

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As the investigation continues overseas, a local friend of the journalist is pushing for justice.

"The thought of how he died is unfathomable," said Robyne Rieger. The Pittsford woman met Khashoggi in college. Both attended Indiana State University. 

Rieger says Khashoggi would regularly come into the record store where she worked and that's how they first became friends. 

"He was funny and very sweet; he was generous," said Rieger. "We became a close bunch while we were there and kept in touch all these years."

The Pittsford resident says they last spoke over the summer and were planning to have a reunion this fall. 

"You never expect that you'll hear or see about someone you know well caught up in something that's ignited the whole world and impacting how the world reacts to the Middle East," said Rieger. 

While there's been no official confirmation of Khashoggi's death or murder, the longtime friend says she doesn't need it. 

The moment he went missing, she knew he was killed and believes the Saudi royals are responsible. 

Rieger also says since Khashoggi's disappearance, there has been a "deafening silence" among their mutual friends living in Saudi Arabia. A silence Rieger believes stems from fear.  

The former classmate says Khashoggi wrote with the intention to spark positive change in his country's strict regime that left citizens with little to no rights. 

"He wanted to give the people a voice," she told News10NBC. 

That voice wasn't received well by Saudi royals, and Rieger says Khashoggi knew it. It's what sparked him to self-exile himself in 2017 out of fear for his own safety. 

Rieger says the journalist told her "a friend of mine wasn't allowed to publish an editorial last week and I knew I was next so I packed a couple of bags and got on a plane." 

The Washington Post journalist was a resident of the United States with a home in Virginia.

In conversations about the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Rieger says Khashoggi described him as "pretty young and pretty immature." 

He was also concerned about the rapidly developing relationship between President Trump and Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, known as MbS. 

"He thought they were direct opposites," Rieger says, recalling past conversations. 

As bipartisan support grows for sanctions against Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump wants proof they're behind the murder, adding ditching the multi-billion dollar arms deal would be a mistake. 

"It's an atrocious thing to think but its what's the cost of a human life and right now it seems like it's $110-billion which is based on this arms deal," said Rieger. "It seems like there are two governments – the Saudi government and the U.S. – who want to see this incident go away and the deal go forward and it's wrong."

Since the accusations surfaced, the Saudi stock market has tumbled and tech and media companies have pulled out of a Saudi investment conference.

Saudi Arabia denies the charge.

The longtime friend isn't giving up and is pushing any lawmakers who will listen to ban Saudi royals from entering the United States and freezing assets. 

"I'm going to miss him, his friends are going to miss him and I can't imagine what his family, kids or fiancé are going through," said Rieger. 

Credits

Beth Cefalu

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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