Saudi Arabia admitted on Saturday that critic Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul consulate, saying he died during a “brawl”.
Riyadh announced the arrest of 18 Saudis in connection with their investigation and the sacking of two top aides of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has faced mounting international pressure over the journalist’s disappearance.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and critic of the Islamic petro-state’s powerful crown prince, was last seen on October 2 entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
His disappearance had been shrouded in mystery and tipped Saudi Arabia into one of its worst international crises, with Turkish officials accusing it of carrying out a state-sponsored killing and dismembering the body.
The admission — after persistent claims by the Saudi authorities that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive — came amid the threat of US sanctions and appears aimed at distancing Prince Mohammed from the affair.
In the latest version of events from Riyadh, Saudi Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said Khashoggi died after talks at the consulate degenerated into an altercation. He did not disclose the whereabouts of his body.
“Discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him… at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul led to a brawl and a fistfight with the citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, which led to his death, may his soul rest in peace,” the attorney general said in a statement.
The Saudi king also ordered the setting up of a ministerial body under the chairmanship of the crown prince to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence agency and “define its powers accurately”, state media said.
Deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani, both part of Prince Mohammed’s inner circle, were sacked.