RIYADH: Saudi Arabia yesterday said dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi died inside its Istanbul consulate. US President Donald Trump said he found the explanation credible, as Turkey kept up its investigation. Before dawn yesterday, Riyadh announced that Khashoggi died during a “brawl” inside the consulate on Oct 2. Eighteen Saudis have been arrested in connection with his death and two top aides of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as three other intelligence agents, have been sacked.
Saudi Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al-Mojeb said Khashoggi died after talks at the consulate degenerated into a physical altercation. He did not disclose the whereabouts of the journalist’s body. “Discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him… at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul led to a brawl and a fistfight with the citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, which led to his death, may his soul rest in peace,” the attorney general said in a statement.
The Saudi king also ordered the setting up of a ministerial body under the chairmanship of the crown prince to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence agency and “define its powers precisely”, Saudi state media said. Key members of the crown prince’s inner circle, deputy intelligence chief Ahmad Al-Assiri and royal court media adviser Saud Al-Qahtani, were sacked. Saudi Arabia’s Gulf ally, the United Arab Emirates, welcomed the moves by the king, as did Bahrain and Egypt.
Trump swiftly endorsed Saudi Arabia’s explanation, calling it an “important first step”. “I do, I do,” Trump said when asked if the Saudis’ explanation was credible, while adding: “It’s early, we haven’t finished our review or investigation.” UN chief Antonio Guterres stressed “the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible”, his office said in a statement. Britain’s Foreign Office, which also has close ties to Riyadh, said it “was a terrible act and those responsible must be held to account”.
Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted in Arabic: “The heart grieves, the eye tears, and with your separation we are saddened, my dear Jamal,” she said, also asking “#where is martyr Khashoggi’s body?” The couple had been due to marry this month. Ankara said it regarded it as a “debt of honor” to reveal what happened. “We are not accusing anyone in advance but we don’t accept anything to remain covered (up),” said ruling Justice and Development Party spokesman Omer Celik.
In Saudi Arabia, there was widespread support for the king and the crown prince on Twitter, with hashtags such as “#I am Saudi and I defend it” and “#Saudi kingdom of justice” trending. In Riyadh, preparations continued for an investment forum due to open on Tuesday despite high-profile international no-shows. “I think that the transparency of the statement has made it clear that Saudi Arabia is a great and strong country and transparent in everything,” said one Saudi citizen, Futayes Moqren, as he drank a coffee at a cafe.
In a recent off-the-record interview published posthumously by US magazine Newsweek, Khashoggi said he would have accepted an offer to work as Prince Mohammed’s adviser. “I’m not calling for the overthrow of the regime,” the onetime royal insider said. “I’m just calling for reform of the regime.” – Agencies