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Saudi Arabia Says Jamal Khashoggi Was Killed in Consulate Fight

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Saudi Arabia said Saturday that Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist who disappeared more than two weeks ago, had died after an argument and fistfight with unidentified men inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Eighteen men have been arrested and are being investigated in the case, Saudi state-run media reported without identifying any of them.

State media also reported that Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy director of Saudi intelligence, and other high-ranking intelligence officials had been dismissed. They did not say whether the men’s firing had any connection to the Khashoggi case or whether they were being investigated for playing a role in it.

International outrage surrounding Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance has mounted as Turkish officials have leaked lurid details from their own investigation suggesting that he was murdered inside the consulate and dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents who flew in specifically to meet him.

The case has battered the international reputation of the kingdom and its 33-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who has sought to sell himself to the world as young reformer shaking off his country’s conservative past. But suspicions that such a complicated foreign operation could not have been launched without at least his tacit approval have driven away many of his staunchest foreign supporters.

The Trump administration had built strong ties with Crown Prince Mohammed, seeing him as a strong partner in its ambitions to counter Iran, forge a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and reconfigure the Middle East. But Mr. Trump said on Thursday that he believed Mr. Khashoggi was dead and that the consequences would be great for Saudi Arabia if it was determined to be behind the killing.

“Well, it’ll have to be very severe,” he said. “I mean, it’s bad, bad stuff.”

Big name chief executives, investors and foreign officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have dropped out of a Saudi investment conference that the crown prince is hosting in Riyadh next week. It was unclear how the Saudi announcement would be received by Mr. Trump and others who had begun to distance themselves from the young prince.

The Saudi statement did not address many of the questions raised by the Turkish investigation, such as the identities of the 15 suspects in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing and whether they were among the 18 people the Saudis said they had arrested.

All 15 were identified by name and Turkish newspapers published their photographs. The New York Times established that most of them were employed by the Saudi military or security services and that at least four had traveled with the crown prince as part of his security detail.

Nor did the Saudi announcement say what had become of Mr. Khasoggi’s body. The Turks had said it had been disassembled with a bone saw by an autopsy specialist flown in specifically for the purpose and likely carried out of the consulate in large suitcases.

Turkish investigators were searching a park and a forest for traces of Mr. Khashoggi’s remains on Saturday but did not announce their findings.

The reports of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing had shaken members of the Saudi royal family, many of whom were angry about Crown Prince Mohammed’s swift rise over the last three years. Some wondered if the scandal could lead his father, King Salman, to replace him with another prince not tarnished by the case.

But instead, the king named Crown Prince Mohammed the head of a committee to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence agency.

People with knowledge of Saudi plans told The Times on Thursday that the kingdom was planning to blame the operation on General Assiri, the deputy intelligence director. The people said the kingdom would portray the operation as carried out by rogue actors who did not have orders from the top and who had set out to interrogate and kidnap Mr. Khashoggi but ended up killing him, perhaps accidentally.

Mr. Kashoggi, 60, was one of Saudi Arabia’s best known personalities, a journalist who had interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan years before he founded Al Qaeda. He later served an adviser to and unofficial spokesman for the Saudi royal family.

But his relationship with the kingdom changed during the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed, who has announced broad social and economic reforms but also gone after critics and cut down many of his fellow royals.

After many of his friends and colleagues were jailed last year, Mr. Khashoggi settled into self-exile in the Washington area and became a columnist for The Washington Post, a position he used to criticize the crown prince’s increasing authoritarianism.

He entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to pick up an official document he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. When he didn’t come out after a number of hours, Ms. Cengiz began calling Turkish officials to tell them that Mr. Khashoggi was missing.

Source: NYT > World

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