DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia acknowledged early Saturday that Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in a fight, and said 18 Saudis were being held as suspects.
The overnight announcements in Saudi state media came more than two weeks after Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancée, and never came out. Saudi Arabia had rejected as baseless reports that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate, but had been facing growing pressure to explain what happened to him.
The overnight announcement in Saudi State media also said a royal court adviser close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was fired along with three leaders in the kingdom’s intelligence services and other officials. Saudi King Salman also had a plan to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence services.
The statement contradicts reports by pro-government media in Turkey, which have published surveillance video and other material suggesting Khashoggi was killed by an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On Wednesday, the Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying, said the squad immediately accosted the journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.
“Preliminary investigations carried out by the Public Prosecution Office into the disappearance of Saudi citizen Jamal bin Ahmad Khashoggi revealed that the discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him during his presence at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul (leading) to a brawl and a fist fight with the citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, which led to his death, may his soul rest in peace,” the Saudi prosecutors’ statement read.
The Saudi statements did not identify the 18 Saudis being held by authorities.
Turkish crime scene investigators this week searched the Saudi Consulate building in Istanbul and the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general, and came out carrying bags and boxes. On Friday, investigators questioned staff and explored whether his remains could have been dumped outside Istanbul after his suspected killing, Turkish media and a security official said.
The prominent journalist had written columns critical of the Saudi government while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S.
President Donald Trump has said that the consequences for the Saudis “will have to be very severe” if they are found to have killed him, but has insisted insisted that more facts must be known before making assumptions.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press journalists Mehmet Guzel and Ayse Wieting in Istanbul and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed.