Saudi Arabia confirmed that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at its consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
In a statement put out on Saudi state television late Friday, the country’s chief prosecutor said a fight broke out between Khashoggi and “people who met him” in the consulate.
The fight resulted in Khashoggi’s death, the prosecutor said.
Riyadh has also fired top Saudi general Ahmed al-Assiri and a senior adviser to the royal court, Saoud al-Qahtani, Saudi media reported. Assistant to intelligence chief and pilot Mohammed Bin Saleh Al Rumeih was also dismissed.
Last week, Turkish officials told MEE and US media outlets that Saudi Arabia was preparing to admit Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, but would attempt to absolve Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of any responsibility. The New York Times reported on Thursday that Riyadh was looking to blame Assiri for the murder in an effort to shield the crown prince from blame.
US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who earlier pledged to “sanction the hell out Saudi Arabia” if it was involved in Khashoggi’s murder, was quick to express scepticism about the Saudi account.
“First we were told Mr Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement,” he wrote on twitter. “Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince.”
Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, called the Saudi story a “calculated admission”.
The White House released a vague statement on Friday, saying it acknowledged that the Saudi investigation into the matter was “progressing”.
“We will continue to closely follow the international investigations into this tragic incident and advocate for justice that is timely, transparent, and in accordance with all due process,” President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in the statement. “We are saddened to hear confirmation of Mr Khashoggi’s death, and we offer our deepest condolences to his family, fiancée, and friends.”
Friday’s confirmation marks an astounding reversal from earlier statements by Saudi officials who insisted that Khashoggi had left the consulate shortly after entering it on 2 October, when he was last seen publicly.
A Turkish source who has listened in full to an audio recording of the Saudi journalist’s last moments told Middle East Eye that Khashoggi was tortured and killed in seven minutes inside the building.
“The consul himself was taken out of the room. There was no attempt to interrogate him. They had come to kill him,” the source told MEE.
Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, was one of a 15-member squad who arrived in Ankara earlier that day on a private jet.
Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table in the study while he was still alive, the Turkish source said.
On Friday night, a tweet Qahtani, the dismissed adviser, wrote last year began making the rounds again on social media:
“Do you think I rebuke (others) on my own accord without direction? I am an employee and a loyal executer to the orders of my master, the king, and my master, his highness the crown prince,” he wrote at the time.
On Friday, the Saudi prosecutor said the investigation was still underway and 18 suspects had been arrested so far.
Saudi state TV outlet Alekhbariya also reported that King Salman is forming a committee – to be headed by the crown prince himself – that will be tasked with “reconstructing the leadership of general intelligence, modernising its system and clearly defining its responsibilities”.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman spoke by phone late Friday, stressing the importance of maintaining full cooperation between Ankara and Riyadh as they investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The leaders also shared information on the independent investigations being conducted by both countries, Anadolu reported.