World

Saudi crown prince calls Khashoggi killing 'painful' and 'not justifiable'

Saudi Arabia's crown prince told attendees at a business conference in Riyadh that the case of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi is "painful" and that "justice will prevail" hours after U.S. President Donald Trump suggested Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the killing.

Mohammed bin Salman makes comments hours after Trump suggests prince may be complicit in journalist's killing

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the second day of Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh on Wednesday. The event has been overshadowed by the killing of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had been living in self-imposed exile. (The Associated Press)

Saudi Arabia's crown prince said on Wednesday the case of Jamal Khashoggi was "painful" and that "justice will prevail" following the killing of the Saudi journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Appearing on a discussion panel at an international investment conference in Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said all culprits would be punished, and that Saudi Arabia and Turkey would work together "to reach results."

"The incident that happened is very painful, for all Saudis…. The incident is not justifiable," he said. "Justice in the end will appear."

Hours earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump, in his toughest comments yet, told the Wall Street Journal that the crown prince bore ultimate responsibility for the operation that led to Khashoggi's Oct. 2 killing.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested that the Saudi operation after Khashoggi's killing was the 'worst coverup ever.' (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Trump said he wanted to believe Prince Mohammed when he said that lower level officials were to blame for the killing at the Saudi mission.

But he suggested responsibility lay higher up: "Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He's running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him."

Kingdom's rulers under pressure

The death of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist, has sparked global outrage and threatened relations between Riyadh and Washington as well as other Western nations.

A number of high-profile business and political figures pulled out of the conference over the death of the journalist, who was a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Prince Mohammed on Wednesday and the two discussed the steps needed to bring to light all aspects of the killing of Khashoggi, a presidential source said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says his government is determined that those found to be involved in the killing will 'not to escape justice.' (Tumay Berkin/Reuters)

An adviser to Turkey's president said Prince Mohammed had "blood on his hands" over Khashoggi, the bluntest language yet from someone linked to Erdogan.

Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the remarks by Trump and the Erdogan adviser.

Riyadh has blamed a "rogue operation" for the death of the prominent Saudi journalist, a critic of the crown prince, and said the crown prince had no knowledge of the killing.

For Saudi Arabias allies, the burning question has been whether they believe that Prince Mohammed, who has painted himself as a reformer, has any culpability in the killing, a possibility raised by several U.S. lawmakers.

Conflicting accounts

Saudi Arabia has given conflicting accounts about Khashoggi's killing. It first denied his death and later said Khashoggi died inside the consulate after a fight.

On Sunday, Riyadh called the killing a "huge and grave mistake," but sought to shield the crown prince from the widening crisis, saying he had not been aware.

Turkish security sources say that when Khashoggi entered the consulate, he was seized by 15 Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets just hours before.

Khashoggi, seen here in 2015, had become a prominent critic of the Saudi royal family, particularly the crown prince. (Hasan Jamali/Associated Press)

"It is a disgrace that reaches all the way to Crown Prince [Mohammed bin] Salman. At least five members of the execution team are [Mohammed bin] Salman's right hands and are people that wouldn't act without his knowledge," Ilnur Cevik, one of several advisers to Turkey's Erdogan, wrote in the Yeni Birlik newspaper.

"Even if U.S. President Trump saves [Mohammed bin] Salman, in the eyes of the world he is a questionable person with Khashoggi's blood on his hands," Cevik's column said.

It was not immediately clear whether Cevik's column reflected the views of Erdogan, who in speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday highlighted the need for all of those responsible — "from those who ordered it to those who carried it out" — to face justice.

Saudi Arabia has agreed to conduct a joint investigation into Khashoggi's killing with the Turkish authorities, with its consulate in Istanbul searched days after the journalist's death.

As part of that probe, Turkish police in Istanbul have been granted permission to search a well in the garden of the Saudi consulate, broadcaster NTV said, after Saudi officials had earlier refused to allow a search.

Saudi response

Saudi Arabia has detained 18 people and dismissed five senior government officials as part of the investigation. Among those fired was Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed. According to two intelligence sources, Qahtani ran Khashoggi's killing by giving orders over Skype.

Rather than cancel their participation at the investment conference altogether, some companies sent mid-level executives to keep lines of communication and business open with Saudi Arabia. Outside the ornate hall of the forum, hushed conversations over coffee and dates, and a flurry of business cards were being exchanged among participants.

There was a strong showing from Russian, Asian and African nations at the forum.

Some $55 billion US in agreements were pledged at the forum, much of that focused on Saudi Arabia's lucrative energy industry. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's largest exporters of oil, has the Arab world's largest economy and is a key emerging market.

Several participants in attendance from the U.S., including a California hedge fund manager and staff from a U.S. desalination company, declined to speak with The Associated Press at the forum, reflecting a general nervousness among the Americans there.

The crown prince poses for a selfie during the Future Investment Conference in Riyadh. (Stephen Kalin/Reuters)

The case has also triggered diplomatic unease. Canada's government, which has condemned the killing, is facing questions about the future of a deal to provide Saudi Arabia with light armoured vehicles.

The German government is discussing how to deal with arms exports to Saudi Arabia that have already been approved but not yet delivered, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said.

France will take appropriate measures if Saudi Arabia's guilt over the killing of Khashoggi is clearly established, government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said.

Separately, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, a regional rival of Saudi Arabia, said Riyadh would not have murdered Khashoggi without U.S. protection, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

With files from The Associated Press, CBC News

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