Saudi Arabia has confirmed that missing journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi died in a fist fight involving more than a dozen Saudi officials at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, the media reported on Saturday.
A statement carried on Saudi state TV on Friday night was the first official confirmation of Khashoggi’s death in Turkey 18 days ago, and the first acknowledgment by Saudi Arabia of its role in it, reports CNN.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expresses deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place in this case and affirms the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the attention of the public and to hold accountable all those involved,” it said.
The statement conceded that Khashoggi died as a result of the altercation after he had come to the consulate to obtain paperwork needed for his upcoming wedding to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.
Five high-ranking officials have been removed from their posts, including the deputy head of the Saudi intelligence service, and 18 Saudis have been detained, it added.
Khashoggi disappeared after going to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul at about 1.15 p.m. on October 2 to obtain the paperwork. She raised the alarm just before 5 p.m, while she was still waiting outside.
According to Saudi state media, citing official sources, the public prosecutor’s office investigated a number of suspects based on the information they received from Turkish authorities.
Preliminary investigations showed a suspect went to Istanbul to meet with Khashoggi with the possible intention of bringing the journalist to the Kingdom.
The Saudis have set up a commission, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that will restructure the Saudi general intelligence directorate and will have one month to release a report, state TV said.
The commission will consist of national security officials, the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump said that he found the Saudi claim credible, CNN said.
He called the official statement from Riyadh a “good first step” and said talks with Saudi officials would continue, including raising some questions about their account of events.
“I think we’re getting close to solving a very big problem,” Trump said.
He added that Saudi Arabia has been a “great ally in the Middle East”, but that “what happened is unacceptable”.
Trump said he would work with Congress to develop a response to Khashoggi’s death, but said that he didn’t want sanctions to affect US arms sales to the Kingdom.
Trump said he would withhold a fuller comment until he speaks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia has been under intense pressure since Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkish officials, mostly speaking privately, have released a steady stream of gory details about what happened to the journalist at the consulate. They said he was killed soon after he entered the embassy, and his body dismembered.
None of the Saudi statements however, give any clue as to what happened to Khashoggi’s remains.