Saudi Arabia again changes its story on Khashoggi
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA » Signaling a major pivot in its narrative, Saudi Arabia on Thursday said evidence shows that the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was premeditated, an apparent effort to ease international outrage over the death of a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Saudi prosecutors cited Turkish evidence that the slaying was planned, contradicting a Saudi assertion just days ago that rogue officials fromthe kingdom killed him by mistake in a brawl inside their Istanbul consulate. That earlier assertion, in turn, backtracked froman initial statement that Saudi authorities knew nothing about what happened to the columnist for The Washington Post, who vanished after entering the consulate Oct. 2.
The shifting explanations indicate Saudi Arabia is scrambling for a way out of the crisis that has enveloped the world’s largest oil exporter and a major U.S. ally in the Middle East. But a so- lution seems a long way off, partly because of deepening skepticism in Turkey and elsewhere that the brazen crime could have been carried out without the knowledge of Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s heir apparent.
At a conference in Riyadh on Wednesday, the crown prince said the killing was a “heinous crime that cannot be justified” and warned against any efforts to “manipulate” the crisis and drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are regional rivals but also diplomatic and business partners.
On Thursday, Prince Mohammed attended the first meeting of a committee aiming to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence services after the killing of Khashoggi, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Khashoggi’s death has derailed the powerful prince’s campaign to project a modern image of the ultraconservative country, instead highlighting the brutal lengths to which some top officials in the government have gone to silence its critics. Khashoggi had written critically of Prince Mohammed’s crackdown on dissent.
A statement by Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb attributed the latest findings of a joint Turkish- Saudi investigation to information from Turkish counterparts. The evidence of Turkish investigators “indicates that the suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention,” the Saudi government statement said.
After the journalist disappeared, Saudi Arabia initially insisted Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate after visiting the building. It later dropped that account for a newone, saying it had detained 18 people for what it described as an accidental killing during a “fistfight.”
What U. S. President Donald Trump called “one of the worst cover-ups in the history of coverups” was revealed to the world by Turkish leaks of information, including references to purported audio recordings of the killing, and security camera footage of the Saudi officials who were involved as they moved around Istanbul.
Saudi officials told The Associated Press this week that the kingdom sent a team to Turkey that included a forensics expert and a member whose job was to dress in the 59-year- old writer’s clothes and pretend to be him — though they were insisting as late as Tuesday that his death was an accident.
As the shocking revelations mount, Turkey is pushing Saudi Arabia for more detail.
“Jamal Khashoggi’s body still hasn’t been found. Where is it?” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference
CIA Director Gina Haspel on Thursday briefed Trump on the evidence about Khashoggi’s death that she reviewed during a trip to Turkey. The White House did not release any details of their meeting.
An activist wearing a mask depicting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman holds up his hands painted with fake blood during a vigil for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul on Thursday.