Saudi Arabia on Sunday called the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate a “huge and grave mistake”, but sought to shield its powerful crown prince from the widening crisis, saying Mohammed bin Salman had not been aware.
The comments from Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir were some of the most direct yet from the Saudi government, which has given multiple and conflicting accounts about Khashoggi’s killing on October 2, first denying his death and later admitting it amid an international outcry.
“This was an operation that was a rogue operation. This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had,” Jubeir said on the US broadcaster Fox.
“They made the mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it,” he said.
Three European powers – Germany, Britain and France – pressed Riyadh to provide facts, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not export arms to Saudi Arabia while uncertainty over Khashoggi’s fate persisted.
US President Donald Trump spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday. The two discussed a range of issues including circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death.
Late on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency said both Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed had called Khashoggi’s son, Salah, to express condolences.
Jubeir said the Saudis did not know how Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident, had been killed or where his body was. He also said Prince Mohammed was not responsible.
Turkish officials believe Mr Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was murdered by a team of Saudi agents inside the building and pointed fingers at the crown prince, who is seen by many as having more power than his father, the king.
Khashoggi vanished after entering the consulate to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
After two weeks denying any involvement in the 59-year-old’s disappearance, Saudi Arabia on Saturday said Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, died during a fight in the building. An hour later, another Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold.
Reflecting international scepticism over its account, a senior Saudi government official laid out a new version that contradicts previous explanations.
The latest account includes details on how 15 Saudis sent to confront Khashoggi had threatened him with being drugged and kidnapped, then killed him in a chokehold when he resisted. A member of the team dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear as if he had left the consulate.
Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate by the Saudi agents and his body cut up. Turkish sources say authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder.
In a speech on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to suggest he was getting ready to release some information about the Turkish investigation, and would do so at his weekly speech on Tuesday to members of his ruling AK Party.