Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and said 18 Saudis were being held as suspects.
- Saudi Arabia had initially insisted Khashoggi had freely left embassy
- Now admits he died after a fight broke out
- Suggesting his death was not premeditated
- Claims of audio and video recordings of Khashoggi tortured and murdered
- Dismissal of two key advisers to Saudi crown prince
Saudi Arabia has finally changed its tune.
After claiming for days that Jamal Khashoggi had left the country’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, it has now admitted that he died there.
But the Saudi description of how the journalist died is in stark contrast to the account given by Turkish security sources to local newspapers. While they suggested he was deliberately tortured and dismembered with a bone saw, the Saudi version – 17 days on – claims Mr Khashoggi died after a fight broke out.
In other words, the Saudis are suggesting his death was not premeditated.
This is the “botched rendition” explanation – a kidnap attempt that went wrong after which the killers attempted a gruesome cover-up.
The question now is whether Riyadh’s Western allies will find this account convincing and persuade them not to take punitive action against Saudi Arabia.
I think we can safely predict some scepticism. What might impress countries like Britain and the United States more is the dismissal of two key advisers to the Saudi crown prince, the country’s de facto leader.
One Western diplomat told me they were “not just part of [Prince Mohammed]’s inner circle. They were his inner circle”. Their sacking will be seen as an attempt to ring fence the crown prince from accusations that he knew about the killing.
The question now is whether this initial line of defence will hold. Some Western diplomats are expecting – or perhaps hoping – that the crown prince’s wings may be clipped even more, perhaps with another royal prince named as deputy crown prince with an alternative power base.
What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?
Mr Khashoggi – a prominent journalist who fell out of favour with the Saudi government – had been living in self-imposed exile in the US since last year.
He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, to pick up paperwork that would allow him to marry his fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
Turkish officials believe Mr Khashoggi was killed by a team of Saudi agents inside the consulate, and his body then removed.
Saudi Arabia has denied the claims, and initially insisted Mr Khashoggi had freely left the embassy.
Why does Turkey say he was murdered?
Turkish officials say they have audio and video recordings that show Mr Khashoggi being murdered.
Turkish newspapers with close links to the government have published gruesome details of the alleged audio, including what they describe as the sounds of screams and Mr Khashoggi being interrogated and tortured.
Meanwhile, Turkish media say they have identified a 15-member team of suspected Saudi agents who flew into and out of Istanbul on the day of the disappearance.