After two weeks in which the kingdom has denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, Saudi officials admitted Friday that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
According to a statement released through state-run media, the Saudi government is now stating that an argument broke out between Khashoggi and men who met him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, leading to a fistfight that led to his death. The statement says also that 18 Saudis have been arrested and are being investigated in connection with the case.
The kingdom also fired Deputy Chief of General Intelligence Ahmad bin Hassan Asiri and royal court advisor Abdullah Al-Qahtani.
Citing an unnamed source, The Associated Press reported Friday that investigators there were looking into whether Khashoggi’s remains “may have been taken to a forest in the outskirts of Istanbul or to another city.” The source told the AP that “two vehicles belonging to the consulate left the building” soon after Khashoggi went missing.
عاجل | النائب العام: المناقشات التي تمت بين المواطن جمال خاشقجي وبين الأشخاص الذين قابلوه أثناء تواجده في قنصلية المملكة في إسطنبول أدت إلى حدوث شجار واشتباك بالأيدي مما أدى إلى وفاته. #الإخبارية
— قناة الإخبارية (@alekhbariyatv) October 19, 2018
The admission directly contradicts the kingdom’s previous assertions about Khosoggi’s disappearance, including from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who personally told Bloomberg on Oct. 5 that the dissident journalist left the Saudi consulate “after a few minutes or one hour.”
It also differs considerably from other reports of how Khashoggi died. On Wednesday, Turkish officials told The New York Times that it had audio evidence proving Khashoggi was tortured, killed and later dismembered by a team of Saudi agents who had flown to Istanbul to meet him on.
The disappearance of Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government who was a permanent U.S. resident, has been a public relations black eye for the country, and has led dozens of participants and media sponsors to withdraw from a business conference later this month. It also prompted WME to axe a $400 million investment deal it struck with Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
Earlier this week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the kingdom. The crown prince promised a “thorough, transparent, and timely investigation that provides answers.”