Saudi prosecutors now say Khashoggi killing was planned, not accidental

Saudi prosecutors say the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was planned, state-run media has reported, reflecting yet another change in the shifting Saudi Arabian account of what happened to the writer killed by Saudi officials in their consulate in Istanbul.

Search for journalist's body focused on well in consulate garden

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, left, and an image of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi from a poster demanding his release. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images; Getty Images)

Saudi prosecutors say the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was planned, state-run media reported Thursday, reflecting yet another change in the shifting Saudi Arabian account of what happened to the writer killed by Saudi officials in their consulate in Istanbul.

A statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency from Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb attributed the conclusion about a calculated killing to information from Turkish counterparts.

The evidence of Turkish investigators "indicates that the suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention," al-Mojeb said.

After the journalist disappeared, Saudi Arabia initially insisted Khashoggi, 59, had walked out of the consulate after visiting the building on Oct. 2. It later dropped that account for a new one, saying he was accidentally killed in a "fist fight" during a botched operation to return him to the kingdom, and said it had detained 18 people suspected of being involved.

The kingdom has faced growing international pressure to be transparent about the death of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who was a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. For his part, in his first public comments on the matter, bin Salman vowed on Wednesday that the killers would be brought to justice. 

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been saying for several days that he expects a full report from his officials soon, was briefed Thursday by CIA director Gina Haspel, who recently returned from Turkey, Reuters reported.

Also Thursday, Human Rights Watch said Khashoggi's son has left Saudi Arabia and is on his way to the United States. Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, said that Salah Khashoggi and his family left the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Thursday after a travel ban on him was lifted.

International concern

Many countries responded with skepticism to the version of a brawl involving Khashoggi and rogue officials, putting Saudi Arabia on the defensive even as it hosted an investment conference this week that many dignitaries skipped because of the scandal. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested his government is looking for ways to cancel a $15-billion deal to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

Turkey is pushing the Saudi government to reveal exactly who ordered the killing, fuelling suspicions that bin Salman was involved even though he condemned it at the Riyadh forum, saying it was "heinous." 

Also Thursday, bin Salman attended the first meeting of a committee aiming to restructure the kingdom's intelligence services after the killing of Khashoggi, the Saudi Press Agency said.

The seemingly clumsy coverup of the killing has been exposed to the world with Turkish leaks of information, security camera footage and, eventually, Saudi acknowledgments that Khashoggi died in the consulate. Khashoggi's remains have not been found.

Search focused on well at consulate

"Where is it?" Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said Thursday at a news conference. 

"There is a crime here, but there is also a humanitarian situation. The family wants to know and they want to perform their last duty," Cavusoglu said, referring to hopes for the writer's burial. 

Barriers block the road leading to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday. Turkish forensic teams have searched the consulate, the consul general's official residence as well as vehicles belonging to the consulate as part of their probe into Khashoggi's disappearance and death. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Turkey has been focusing on a well in the garden of the Saudi Arabian consulate in its search for Khashoggi's remains.

There were conflicting reports Thursday about whether investigators had searched the well.

Yeni Safak, a pro-government Turkish newspaper, says investigators emptied the well and are awaiting the results of an analysis of the water to determine whether body parts were dumped there. But Sabah, another pro-government newspaper, says Saudi Arabia has yet to give Turkish authorities permission for a search.

Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate by Saudi agents and his body was cut up. Turkish sources say authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting the killing.

The newspaper Yeni Safak, citing the audio, has said his torturers cut off his fingers during an interrogation and later beheaded him.

Two sources told Reuters on Thursday that Haspel heard the recording during her visit to Turkey this week.

Representatives of the CIA and Turkish intelligence have declined to comment on Haspel's review of the recording.

Cavusoglu said Thursday that Ankara had shared information with some parties who sought additional details. He told reporters that Turkey had no intention of taking the case to an international court but would share information if an international inquiry were launched. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Saudi officials made "reconnaissance" trips to the forest as well as the city of Yalova a day before Khashoggi was killed. Turkish officials have told The Associated Press that investigators were looking into the possibility that the journalist's remains may have been hidden at those two locations.

With files from Reuters