Sunday 17 November 2019

Writer's killing 'a grave error' but prince innocent: Saudis

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Hasan Jamali/AP)
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Hasan Jamali/AP)

Kylie MacLellan

Saudi Arabia has described the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a "huge and grave mistake" but several European governments said they were unsatisfied with the explanations.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisted powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not responsible, despite multiple and conflicting accounts about Mr Khashoggi's killing on October 2.

The kingdom's weeks of denial and lack of credible evidence in the face of allegations from Turkish officials that Mr Khashoggi had been killed in at Riyadh's Istanbul consulate have shaken global confidence in ties with the world's top oil exporter.

US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said Saudi Arabia's admission the 'Washington Post' columnist had been killed in a fistfight was a "good first step but not enough".

Germany, Britain and France last night pressed Saudi Arabia to provide facts to back up its earlier explanation of a fight, while Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not export arms to Saudi Arabia while the current uncertainty over Mr Khashoggi's fate persisted.

Mr Jubeir said the Saudis offered its condolences to Mr Khashoggi's family.

"This is a terrible mistake. This is a terrible tragedy. Our condolences go out to them. We feel their pain," he said. "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 Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident, had been killed or where his body was. He also insisted that Prince Mohammed, defacto ruler of Saudi Arabia, was not to blame.

"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," he said.

Mr Khashoggi went missing after entering the consulate to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.

After denying any involvement in the 59-year-old's disappearance for two weeks, Saudi Arabia said Mr Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, had 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 yesterday.

"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 has laid out a new version that in key respects contradicts previous explanations.

The latest account includes details on how the team of 15 Saudi nationals sent to confront Mr 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 Mr Khashoggi's clothes to make it appear he left the consulate.

Turkish officials suspect Mr Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate by the team of Saudi agents and his body cut up. Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Mr Khashoggi's murder inside the consulate.

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," said Senator Bob Corker.

Meanwhile, Mr Khashoggi's fiancée has been given 24-hour police protection.

Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national, waited for Mr Khashoggi outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on he day he disappeared and she alerted authorities after he failed to show up again.

Irish Independent

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