Saudi Arabia says journalist Khashoggi died after fight in consulate

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Saturday preliminary results of investigations showed US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after a fight with people he met there, state media reported.

 

“The investigations are still underway and 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested,” a statement from the Saudi public prosecutor said, adding Royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Asiri have been sacked from their positions.

Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, went missing after entering the consulate on Oct. 2 to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.

Saturday’s comments marked the first time since Khashoggi went missing that the Saudis admitted to his death.

Turkish officials had said they believed he was killed in the building. Saudi Arabia had previously denied the allegations and said Khashoggi had left the building shortly after.

King Salman also ordered the formation of a ministerial committee headed by the crown prince to restructure the general intelligence agency, state media said.

The disappearance of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Western allies. Arab allies have rallied to Riyadh’s support, but Western pressure has intensified on Saudi Arabia to provide convincing answers.

Before the Saudi announcements, US President Donald Trump said he might consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, while emphasizing the importance of the US-Saudi relationship.

In Istanbul, Turkish prosecutors investigating Khashoggi’s disappearance questioned Turkish employees of the Saudi consulate on Friday, widening the hunt for clues in a case straining Riyadh’s alliance with Western powers.

Turkish police searched a forest on Istanbul’s outskirts and a city near the Sea of Marmara for Khashoggi’s remains, two senior Turkish officials told Reuters, after tracking the routes of cars that left the consulate and the consul’s residence on the day he vanished.

Investigators have recovered samples from searches of both buildings to analyze for traces of Khashoggi’s DNA.

Speaking to reporters in Scottsdale, Arizona, Trump said it was too early to say what the consequences for the incident might be, but that the U.S. Congress would be involved in
determining the American response.

Asked whether Saudi sanctions were one of the measures he was considering, Trump said, “Could be, could be,” though he provided no details.

“We’re going to find out who knew what when and where. And we’ll figure it out,” Trump added.

The US Congress is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, some of whom have called for tough action against Saudi Arabia.

“I will very much listen to what Congress has to say. They feel very strongly about it also,” Trump said.

Trump, who said on Thursday he believes Khashoggi is likely dead and has warned of a potential “very severe” response, has appeared unwilling to distance himself too much from the Saudis, citing Riyadh’s role in countering Iranian influence in the Middle East and lucrative potential arms deals.

“Saudi Arabia has been a great ally, they’ve been a tremendous investor in the United States,” Trump said, adding, “That’s why this is so sad.”

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