Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after a fight, Saudi media has reported.
Eighteen Saudi nationals have been arrested and deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have been dismissed, state TV also reported. Saudi King Salman has also reportedly ordered the kingdom’s intelligence services to be restructured.
Mr Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
“Preliminary investigations carried out by the Public Prosecution Office into the disappearance of Saudi citizen Jamal bin Ahmad Khashoggi revealed that the discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him during his presence at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul (leading) to a brawl and a fist fight with the citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, which led to his death, may his soul rest in peace,” the statement by Saudi prosecutors said.
The statement contradicts reports by Turkish government sources which have alleged Mr Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and the Saudi government, was tortured and murdered and by a hit squad flown in from the Saudi capital Riyadh.
The US said it acknowledged the announcement, with a White House statement saying it "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."
On Friday, before the announcement, US President Donald Trump said he could consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia over Mr Khashoggi.
He said it is still “too early” to determine potential consequences but that he expected to know more by Monday.
“We’re going to find out who knew what when and where and we’ll figure it out", he said.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had earlier said there will be “consequences” for the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia if it was found the journalist was murdered.
His warning came as former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said “all the evidence” suggested that Mr Khashoggi had been murdered on the orders of someone close to the crown prince.
- Who was Jamal Khashoggi?
Mr Khashoggi was a long-time Saudi journalist, foreign correspondent, editor and columnist whose work has been controversial in the past in the ultra-conservative Sunni kingdom. He went into self-imposed exile in the United States following the ascension of Prince Mohammed, now next in line to succeed his father, the 82-year-old King Salman.
Mr Khashoggi was known for his interviews and travels with Osama bin Laden between 1987 and 1995, including in Afghanistan, where he wrote about the battle against the Soviet occupation. In the early 1990s, he tried to persuade bin Laden to reconcile with the Saudi royal family and return home from his base in Sudan, but the al-Qaida leader refused.
Mr Khashoggi maintained ties with Saudi elites and was viewed as a link between the West and the often opaque royal court. As a contributor to the Post, Mr Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticising its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving.
- When was he last seen?
Mr Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul’s 4th Levent neighbourhood on September 28 seeking documents so he could marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. He was told to return to the consulate on October 2 to pick up those documents, Ms Cengiz says.
Surveillance footage later aired on Turkish state television shows Mr Khashoggi walking into the consulate at 1.14pm on October 2. A little less than two hours later, surveillance footage shows several vehicles with diplomatic licence plates move from the consulate to the consul’s home some 1.2 miles away.
Ms Cengiz, who spent hours waiting for Mr Khashoggi outside while holding his mobile phones, says her fiance never walked out of the consulate to meet her. Surveillance footage shows her pacing around outside at 5.33pm, speaking on her phone.