Saudi Arabias attorney general in a statement said Mr. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, died following an altercation inside the consulate. The statement said 18 Saudi citizens have been detained pending the final results of a continuing investigation.
Kingdom sacks intelligence official, arrests 18 Saudis saying missing journalist was killed in a fist fight.
Saudi Arabia admitted journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, saying he died in brawl but made no mention of where his body is.
Preliminary results of investigations showed the dissident writer died after a fight broke out inside the building shortly after he entered, the official SPA press agency said on Saturday.
Saudi Attorney-General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said Khashoggi died after “discussions” at the consulate devolved into an altercation.
Instead, the crown prince formed a crisis committee of representatives of the intelligence agencies, Foreign Ministry and security services to update him throughout the day on the latest in the Khashoggi scandal. He has recalled his younger brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, the ambassador to Washington, accelerating plans to name him as a kind of national security adviser to bring order to what largely has been an ad hoc policy process.
“Discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him … at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul led to a brawl and a fist fight with the citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, which led to his death, may his soul rest in peace,” the attorney-general said in a statement.
Royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri were fired from their positions, the statement said.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmans (MBS) rise to power, went missing on October 2 after entering the consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents needed for his upcoming marriage.
Removing such a powerful crown prince could prove hugely disruptive, and few princes would want the job with a resentful Mohammed bin Salman scheming against his replacement. But one Western diplomat with long experience in the kingdom suggested that the king might check the young prince by reducing his power, perhaps redistributing control of the security services to other respected princes.
“Its early, we havent finished our review or investigation, but … I think its a very important first step,” he said.
Since the Saudi state was founded in 1932, the royal family has at times been torn by disagreements, even an assassination. But the thousands of princes and princesses who make up the House of Saud have ultimately found ways to preserve the dynasty. There was simply too much at stake to let family rifts get in the way of lavish lifestyles, exorbitant allowances and unrivaled privileges.
Trump said sanctions against Saudi Arabia “could be” something he would consider but “its too early to say” how the US will respond for now.
He said he doesnt want to cancel a multi-billion dollar arms deal with the Saudis in response to the admission of guilt.
“I would prefer, if there is going to be some form of sanction or what we may determine to do, if anything… that we dont use as retribution canceling $110bn worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs,” he said.
But unlike 2001, when the royal family came together to protect its collective interests, this time that may not be possible. Instead, there is deep concern, as royals search, so far in vain, for a way to contain the crown prince, who has consolidated power so completely that nearly everyone else is marginalized.
Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security, said she was “surprised” by the Saudis story about Khashoggis death.
“They knew they had to come up with a story, and this is what they think is the best story for their purposes. Its at the very least insufficient, but its also insulting. Its heres our story and were sticking to it.”
Greenberg said Saudi King Salman could have reprimanded and removed his son from power for the killing.
“This is a brutal, horrifying, pointed assassination of a journalist who had strong ties to the West and was a resident of the United States. Each one of those is a line that you wouldnt have expected the king to allow to be crossed,” Greenberg told Al Jazeera.
Saudi officials previously denied the writer had been killed inside the diplomatic facility, insisting Khashoggi had left the building before vanishing.
Turkish media reports have suggested Khashoggi was killed by a 15-person “assassination team” who flew in on two chartered planes to interrogate, torture and kill him.
A Saudi official familiar with the investigation told Reuters news agency the crown prince had no knowledge of the Khashoggi operation.
“There were no orders for them to kill him or even specifically kidnap him,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “MBS had no knowledge of this specific operation and certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody.”
Over the past two weeks, Turkish intelligence had also disclosed a steady stream of leaks to the media, saying it had audio recordings that proved Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate building.
Turkish officials have said a 15-member hit team from Saudi Arabia was waiting for Mr. Khoshoggi and dismembered him inside the consulate. It seems unlikely that such an operation could have been undertaken without the crown princes knowledge.
On Wednesday, the Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of the journalists killing, said the 15-member squad immediately accosted Khashoggi after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.
The one person who could intervene is the king himself, but senior princes have found it nearly impossible to bring their concerns to the 82-year-old monarch, and some doubt he is fully aware of what is happening or willing to change course.
Aaron David Miller, Middle East analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington, to Al Jazeera the Saudi announcement was an effort to protect the powerful crown prince.
“Part of this is unprecedented. For an intel operation, for renditions and kidnappings, which they have done all the time, they have never disclosed or assumed any responsibility. And theyve done it in response to pressure,” said Miller.
“They are creating this cover story that his death occurred during a fist fight. Its another step in a big kabuki theater.”
Turkish crime scene investigators this week searched the consulate building in Istanbul and the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general, and came out carrying bags and boxes. On Friday, investigators questioned staff and explored whether his remains could have been dumped outside Istanbul, Turkish media and a security official said.
Al Jazeeras Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Turkeys capital, Ankara, said Turkish officials are accusing Saudi officials of attempting to thwart a joint Saudi-Turkish investigation, noting Mohammed bin Salman has been put in charge of leading the Saudi probe into Khashoggis disappearance.
“Its a question of how to get away with murder,” she said. “For the sake of the prosecution, the only thing missing is the body of Jamal Khashoggi in order to file an indictment . Now Turkey is going to ask, where is the body?”
SPA also reported on Saturday that Saudi Arabia expressed its “deep regret” for Khashoggis death and praised the Turkish governments cooperation.
“The kingdom expresses its deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place and stresses the commitment of the authorities in the kingdom to bring the facts to the public opinion, to hold all those involved accountable, and bring them to justice,” it said.
The statement came shortly after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would consider a “wide range” of responses.
Al Jazeeras Andrew Simmons, reporting from Istanbul, said it remains to be seen how the US and Turkey respond to the revelation of Khashoggis death.
“Its going to be extremely tense in the coming hours,” he said. “Can they ride this out with this explanation? It remains to be seen,” said Simmons.
Meanwhile, SPA reported that Saudi King Salman had ordered the restructuring of the command of the general intelligence agency under the supervision of Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.
The order also included updating regulations, determining the agencys powers and evaluating its methods and procedures.
It said the king ordered the formation of a ministerial committee, headed by the crown prince, to oversee the restructure. It will include the interior minister, the foreign minister, the head of the intelligence agency and the chief of homeland security.