Saudis agree with Turkey, say murder ‘premeditated’
Kim Hjelmgaard and Deirdre Shesgreen and David Jackson
Published 7:20 PM EDT Oct 25, 2018
Saudi Arabian authorities changed their account Thursday of how journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, for the first time calling his death a “premeditated” murder.
Public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb said in a statement that Saudi investigators reached the conclusion after reviewing evidence given to them by Turkey.
It’s the third shift in as many weeks from the Saudi regime. The kingdom initially said Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident, left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul unharmed on Oct. 2. Amid mounting international outrage, the Saudi government then asserted last Friday that Khashoggi died after a “brawl” escalated inside the Saudi diplomatic facility.
Turkish officials have said they have evidence Khashoggi’s murder was a brutal, premeditated operation, and they have leaked gruesome details to the Turkish media since his disappearance. Thursday’s statement from the Saudi prosecutor conceded the Turkish evidence shows “the suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention.”
The Saudi government also lifted a travel ban that had barred Khashoggi’s son, Salah Khashoggi, from leaving the kingdom. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had pressed Saudi officials to let Salah Khashoggi and his family return to the United States. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabian state media published photos of Salah Khashoggi looking pained as the crown prince and his father, King Salman, offered him condolences for the death of his father.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, spoke publicly for the first time about the incident on Wednesday. He said Khashhoggi’s death was “painful” for all Saudis but made no mention of how it happened or allegations of his own possible involvement. The Saudis have arrested 18 individuals in connection with the case and ousted several top intelligence officials, according to official government statements.
CIA Director Gina Haspel is expected to brief President Donald Trump on Thursday on Turkey’s evidence. Haspel traveled to Turkey this week to review the investigation. The Washington Post and Reuters reported that Haspel has heard a Turkish audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on those reports. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Thursday that his government has “shared with those who sought additional information some of the information and findings that the prosecutor has allowed us to share and that is legal to share.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said only that Haspel “briefed the president on their findings and her discussions.”
Trump called the Saudis’ initial explanation “the worst cover-up ever” in comments on Tuesday, reversing his earlier assessment that the fist-fight account was credible.
In an interview Tuesday with the Wall Street Journal, Trump reiterated that Salman has told him he knew nothing about Khashoggi’s murder, but suggested he wasn’t sure that he believed the crown prince’s denials.
“I want to believe him. I really want to believe him. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump told the Journal. “They’ve been a tremendous investor in our military equipment and other things.”
Khashoggi’s remains have still not been found.
In recent days, the search has focused on a well on the grounds of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to Yeni Safak, a pro-government Turkish newspaper.
More: Saudi crown prince calls Khashoggi killing ‘heinous’ crime