Saudi Ara­bia again changes its story on Khashoggi

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - JOUR­NAL­IST’S KILLING By Aya Ba­trawy and Christo­pher Torchia

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.

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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