Saudi Arabia on Sunday called the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate a “huge and grave mistake,” but sought to shield its powerful crown prince from the widening crisis, saying Mohammed bin Salman had not been aware.
The comments from Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir were some of the most direct yet from Riyadh, which has given multiple and conflicting accounts about Khashoggi’s killing on Oct. 2, first denying his death and later admitting it amid an international outcry.
The weeks of denial and lack of credible evidence in the face of allegations from Turkish officials that Khashoggi had been killed have shaken global confidence in ties with the world’s top oil exporter.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said Saudi Arabia’s admission that the Washington Post columnist was killed in a fistfight was a “good first step but not enough,” though he added it was premature to discuss sanctions against Riyadh.
Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London Britain, September 29, 2018. Middle East Monitor
Three European powers – Germany, Britain and France – pressed Riyadh to provide facts, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not export arms to Saudi Arabia while uncertainty over Khashoggi’s fate persisted.
Late on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency said both Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed had called Khashoggi’s son, Salah, to express condolences.
Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, had extended condolences to Khashoggi’s family earlier on Sunday.
“This is a terrible mistake. This is a terrible tragedy. Our condolences go out to them. We feel their pain,” Jubeir told the U.S. broacaster Fox. “Unfortunately, a huge and grave mistake was made and I assure them that those responsible will be held accountable for this.”
He said the Saudis did not know how Khashoggi, a Saudi national and U.S. resident, had been killed or where his body was. He also said Prince Mohammed was not responsible.
“This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made the mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it.”
Khashoggi vanished after entering the consulate to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
After two weeks denying any involvement in the 59-year-old’s disappearance, Saudi Arabia on Saturday said Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, died during a fight in the building. An hour later, another Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold.
“Nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Germany, Britain and France said in their joint statement.
“There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened … beyond the hypotheses that have been raised so far in the Saudi investigation, which need to be backed by facts to be considered credible.”
Reflecting international scepticism over its account, a senior Saudi government official laid out a new version that contradicts previous explanations.
The latest account includes details on how 15 Saudis sent to confront Khashoggi had threatened him with being drugged and kidnapped and killed him in a chokehold when he resisted. A member of the team dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear as if he had left the consulate.