Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister says officials do not know details of how dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in their consulate in Istanbul or where his body is.
- Saudi Arabia has given multiple and conflicting accounts of Khashoggi’s death
- Officials said he died following an altercation at the consulate two weeks ago
- Western countries are calling for urgent clarification
The comments from Adel al-Jubeir on Fox News were some of the most direct yet from Riyadh, which has given multiple and conflicting statements about Khashoggi’s killing on October 2.
After denying any involvement in the 59-year-old’s disappearance for two weeks, Saudi Arabia announced over the weekend that Khashoggi — a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — had died during a fight in the building.
Another Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold.
However Mr Jubeir’s comments on Fox News appear to step back from that account of the incident, with the Minister saying Saudi authorities were yet to determine how Khashoggi was killed, or the location of his body.
“He was killed in the consulate. We don’t know in terms of details how. We don’t know where the body is,” Mr Jubeir said.
“We are determined to uncover every stone … We are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder.”
Three major European powers — Germany, Britain and France — pressed Saudi Arabia to provide facts to back up its earlier explanation that a fight led to the journalist’s death.
“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,” the three countries said in a joint statement.
A bipartisan group of US politicians has accused the Crown Prince of directing the operation, with Republican Senator Rand Paul telling Fox News that the US “cannot continue to have relations with him and so I think he’s going to have to be replaced”.
In response to the comments by the Kentucky senator, Mr Jubeir said he finds it “very surprising that somebody 6,000 miles away can be certain about an event that happened 6,000 miles away with no access to information or intelligence”.
He said it was “a judgement call on the part of Senator Paul” that was “based in emotion” rather than fact.
US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said on Sunday (local time) that Saudi Arabia’s fist fight admission was a “good first step but not enough”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who has remained largely silent, even as Turkey’s pro-Government media reported gruesome allegations about how Khashoggi was killed — said he would reveal “necessary details” about the case later in the week.
Killing ‘a huge and grave mistake’
Mr Jubeir called the killing of the journalist a “huge and grave mistake”, however he sought to shield the powerful Crown Prince from the widening crisis, saying the Crown Prince had not been aware of the incident.
The top official characterised Khashoggi’s killing as “a rogue operation” and apologised to his family.
“This is a terrible mistake, this is a terrible tragedy. Our condolences go out to them, we feel their pain,” Mr Jubeir said.
The kingdom’s weeks of denial and lack of credible evidence in the face of allegations that Khashoggi had been killed have shaken global confidence in ties with the world’s top oil exporter.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr Trump said that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced today that her country would halt all arms exports to Saudi Arabia while uncertainty over Khashoggi’s fate remains.
“We are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account,” she said.
“As far as arms exports are concerned, those can’t take place in the current circumstances.”
For Saudi Arabia’s allies, the question will be whether they believe that the Crown Prince, who has painted himself as a reformer, has any culpability. King Salman, 82, had handed the day-to-day running of Saudi Arabia to him.
A leading Republican US senator said he believed the Crown Prince was behind the killing, adding that the Saudis had lost all credibility in their explanations of his death.
“Yes, I think he did it,” Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN.