The regime also announced that several top intelligence officials had been ousted, including the deputy president of intelligence and an adviser to the crown prince, Ahmed bin Hassan bin Mohammed Assiri.
It is the first time the kingdom has admitted Khashoggi is dead. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and U.S. permanent resident, entered the consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2 to obtain paperwork he needed to marry his fiancee. Turkish officials say they have evidence he was tortured and murdered inside the embassy. Khashoggi was living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, amid concerns he was in danger because of his criticisms of the regime.
The Saudi Arabian prosecutor said Khashoggi died as a result of a “quarrel and a brawl,” a characterization that brought immediate condemnation from U.S. lawmakers.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the explanation given by the Saudis that led to Khashoggi’s death “absolutely defies credibility.”
“The world deserves an explanation, and not from the Saudis,” he told CNN, adding that for too long they’d been “given a pass” for “killing innocent civilians.”
In a tweet, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement.”
“First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement,” he wrote. “Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince.”
Graham has been a strong supporter of Saudi Arabia but the Khashoggi case has turned him into a critic. He recently suggested that the crown prince was “toxic” and should be replaced.
President Donald Trump said he accepted the Saudi explanation as credible and called Friday’s statement from the regime “a good first step.”
“It’s a big step,” he said to reporters during a briefing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. “There’s a lot of people involved.”
Trump also said he would be talking to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler. “We do have some questions,” he said.
Trump said his administration is waiting for results of other investigations before deciding what steps to take.
In an official statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders was more equivocal.
“We will continue to closely follow the international investigations into this tragic incident and advocate for justice that is timely, transparent, and in accordance with all due process,” Sanders said.
The Saudi admission comes after weeks of vacillation and caution from Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Both have emphasized Saudi Arabia’s role as a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, and Trump has highlighted the Saudis promise to buy billions of dollars in U.S. weapons.
In his remarks on Friday, Trump said he would “prefer” that any penalty against Saudi Arabia not involve canceling the Saudis’ promised $110-billion order for America-made weapon systems, claiming that would cost American jobs. Experts have disputed Trump’s figures related to the sale.
Trump’s remarks have sparked heavy criticism that he appears to be prioritizing the U.S. security relationship with the Middle Eastern country over what Turkish reports allege is an extrajudicial execution carried out by members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Earlier Friday, Turkish crime-scene investigators expanded their search for Khashoggi’s remains to a forest on the outskirts of Istanbul, Turkish media reported.
His body found has not been found. Turkish security officials say they have audio and video evidence indicating he was likely dismembered inside the consulate.
Saudi Arabia did not address that allegation in its statement, only saying that the “brawl” led to Khashoggi’s death and a subsequent attempt to conceal and cover it up. It vowed to “hold all those involved in this case accountable and to bring them to justice.”
The New York Times reported late Thursday that the Saudis may be preparing to blame Gen. al-Assiri, the now ousted royal intelligence officer, for Khashoggi’s killing. The paper said the monarchy may claim that the general was given the go-ahead from the crown prince to detain Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but that he either misunderstood the instructions or overstepped his authorization and killed Khashoggi.
Saudi experts, dissidents, U.S. congressional figures and leading human rights organizations have said that would amount to scapegoating. “U.N. involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
By USA Today