- On Sunday, the Saudi foreign minister denied Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew of Jamal Khashoggi‘s death before it occurred in the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2.
- Saudi Arabia said Saturday that Khashoggi died after a fistfight escalated inside the consulate, but many international leaders were sceptical of that explanation.
- US President Donald Trump, who has been reluctant to punish Saudi Arabia for its suspected hand in the Washington Post columnist’s death, said Saturday that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies” in the Kingdom’s response to the incident.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir denied that his powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had anything to do with Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi’s death, and doubled down on the claim that a “rogue operation” was responsible.
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia claimed Khashoggi died after a “fistfight” escalated inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey, contradicting the accusation from officials in Istanbul that the Washington Post columnist was brutally tortured and dismembered.
Speaking to Fox News’ Bret Baier on Sunday, Al-Jubeir said the kingdom was investigating, had arrested 18 suspects, and had fired intelligence officials.
“The crown prince has denied this, the crown prince was not aware of this – even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this,” he said.
The foreign minister continued: “This was an operation that was a rogue operation. This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made a mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate, and they tried to cover up for it.”
Al-Jubeir offered his condolences to Khashoggi’s family and said he wanted to “make sure those who are responsible are punished.”
Khashoggi had entered the consulate on October 2 to get paperwork to marry his fiance, Hatice Cengiz, and never came out. Disturbing accounts from Turkish media immediately started circulating as Saudi officials said Khashoggi had left the consulate, a story that has changed over time.
A senior Saudi official anonymously told Reuters on Sunday that operatives at the consulate “tried to prevent him from shouting but he died. The intention was not to kill him.”
The official said the team rolled up Khashoggi’s body in a rug and gave it to a “local cooperator” to dispose of, then attempted to remove traces of the incident from the consulate, according to Reuters.
Trump remains reluctant to retaliate
While a growing bipartisan chorus of senators have called for the US to retaliate against Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s death, President Donald Trump has been reluctant to commit to sanctions or other such punishments.
Trump said Saturday that he wasn’t satisfied with Saudi Arabia’s latest response, and again said cancelling a $US110 billion arms deal with the country would hurt the US “far more than it hurts them.”
“Saudi Arabia has been a great ally. But what happened is unacceptable. We are going to see,” he said, adding that the arrests were “a big first step. It’s only a first step, but it’s a big first step.”
The president was more critical in an interview with the Washington Post later on Saturday, saying that in Saudi Arabia’s explanation for Khashoggi’s death, “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies.”
“Nobody has told me he’s responsible,” Trump told the Post, referring to Crown Prince Mohammed. “Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point … I would love if he wasn’t responsible.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker took a different view on the crown prince.
“Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it,” Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. But he said he sees Trump evolving in a positive direction on the issue.
For now, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are continuing their investigations into Khashoggi’s death before Trump or the US Senate decide on any retaliatory measures against the Kingdom.