Dubai/Istanbul (Reuters): Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said on Thursday the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate this month was premeditated, reversing previous official statements that the killing was unintended.
The death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sparked global outrage and mushroomed into a crisis for the world’s top oil exporter and strategic ally of the West.
The Saudi disclosure came after CIA director Gina Haspel heard an audio recording of the killing during a fact-finding visit to Turkey this week.
The spy chief on Thursday briefed President Donald Trump on Turkey’s findings and her discussions, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in the meeting, the State Department said.
Saudi officials initially denied having anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance after he entered the consulate on Oct. 2, before changing the official account to say an internal investigation suggested he was accidentally killed in a botched operation to return him to the kingdom. On Thursday, Saudi state TV quoted the Saudi public prosecutor as saying the killing was premeditated, and that prosecutors were interrogating suspects on the basis of information provided by a joint Saudi-Turkish task force.
“Information from the Turkish side affirms that the suspects in Khashoggi’s case premeditated their crime,” said the statement carried by state TV.
Turkey and Western allies of Riyadh have voiced deep scepticism about Saudi explanations of the killing.
Turkish officials suspect Saudi agents killed Khashoggi, 59, inside the consulate and cut up his body. Turkish sources say authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting the murder.
Pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, citing the audio, has said his torturers cut off his fingers during an interrogation and later beheaded him. The CIA’s Haspel heard an audio recording of Khashoggi’s death during a trip to Turkey this week, sources told Reuters. It was not clear what could be heard. Representatives for the CIA and Turkish intelligence declined to comment.