Saudi Arabia is preparing to say that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by mistake during an interrogation gone awry, according to multiple reports.
The Kingdom is attempting to distance Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the murder by saying it was “unintentional”—the result of a “botched operation” by rogue Saudi agents.
On Monday, Saudi officials were considering whether to say rogue operatives killed Jamal Khashoggi during an interrogation gone wrong, people familiar with the matter said, a move that could help the royal family distance itself from responsibility.
The case has strained U.S.-Saudi ties and cast a shadow over Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to overhaul the kingdom’s economy and attract foreign investment. Since Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, powerful U.S. executives have withdrawn from a high-profile investment conference in Riyadh this month.
The government’s tentative explanation comports with comments Mr. Trump made Monday, after speaking to Saudi King Salman: “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers,” the president said.
It is unclear whether a Saudi statement would be released, and its content hasn’t been completed, the people familiar with the matter said. The Saudi government didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Trump said, “so far it’s just the rumor of a report coming out.” (WSJ)
Turkish authorities have said they believe 15 Saudi men—government officials and intelligence officers—who arrived in Istanbul the day Khashoggi disappeared are tied to his suspected murder. There have also been reports that Turkey has audio and visual evidence of the journalist’s murder inside the consulate.
Turkish investigators began to search the consulate in Istanbul on Monday evening, but earlier in the day a cleaning crew was seen entering the consulate, according to The Washington Post.
But hours before the Turkish forensic team arrived, journalists photographed a cleaning crew entering the consulate, hauling buckets, mops and what appeared to be bottles of cleaning solution. When the Turkish investigators entered the consulate, some wearing white protective gear, they “smelled chemicals had been used,” according to two officials in contact with the investigators.
“They are trying to make fun of us and our willingness to cooperate,” one of the officials said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed Tuesday in Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman about Khashoggi's disappearance.
"The effort behind the scenes is focused on avoiding a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and has succeeded in finding a pathway to de-escalate tensions," Ayham Kamel, the head of the Eurasia Group's Mideast and North African practice, told Fox News. "Riyadh will have to provide some explanation of the journalist's disappearance, but in a manner that distances the leadership from any claim that a decision was made at senior levels to assassinate the prominent journalist."