ISTANBUL — Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a “fistfight” in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the kingdom said early Saturday, acknowledging the writer’s death for the first time. Authorities said 18 Saudi suspects were in custody for his slaying and intelligence officials had been fired.
The overnight announcements in Saudi state media came more than two weeks after Khashoggi, 59, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancée, and never came out. Since his disappearance, the kingdom had rejected Turkish fears he was killed and dismembered there as “baseless,” but growing international pressure and comments by U.S. officials up to President Donald Trump appears to have forced the kingdom to acknowledge the slaying.
In a statement Friday night, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. will closely follow international investigations into Khashoggi’s death and will advocate for justice that is “timely, transparent and in accordance with all due process.”
The announcements came in a flurry of statements carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency early Saturday morning.
“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Public Prosecution showed that the suspects had traveled to Istanbul to meet with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi as there were indications of the possibility of his returning back to the country,” the statement read, though there’s been no indication Khashoggi had immediate plans to return to the kingdom. “Discussions took place with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the consulate of the kingdom in Istanbul by the suspects (that) did not go as required and developed in a negative way, leading to a fistfight. . The brawl led to his death and their attempt to conceal and hide what happened.”
“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,” the statement said.
Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and royal court insider for decades in Saudi Arabia, had written columns critical of Prince Mohammed and the kingdom’s direction while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S.
Trump has said that the consequences for the Saudis “will have to be very severe” if they are found to have killed him, but has insisted that more facts must be known before making any judgements. Trump made his first overseas trip as president to Saudi Arabia and has touted his arms sales to the kingdom. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, responsible for a coming peace proposal for Israel and the Palestinians, also has forged a close relationship with Prince Mohammed.