Saudi Arabia is preparing a report that will acknowledge that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey, according to two sources.
One source says the report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible.
One of the sources acknowledged that the report is still being prepared and cautioned that things could change.
The Washington Post columnist was last seen in public when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in Turkey on October 2. Previously, Saudi authorities had maintained Khashoggi left the consulate the same afternoon of his visit, but provided no evidence to support the claim.
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate, says she did not see him re-emerge.
The disappearance created a diplomatic rift between Saudi Arabia and the West. Amid the fallout, international firms pulled out of a high-profile investment summit, the Future Investment Initiative conference, due to take place later this month in Riyadh.
The case also caused friction between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which repeatedly accused the Saudis of failing to cooperate with their investigation.
On Friday, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN that Turkish authorities have audio and visual evidence that shows journalist Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.
Turkish authorities have privately said they believed 15 Saudi men who arrived in Istanbul on October 2 were connected to Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder. At least some of them appear to have high-level connections in the Saudi government.
If that group is to be characterized as part of a rogue operation intended to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia alive, questions could arise about Salah Muhammed al-Tubaiqi. He is listed on an official Saudi website as the head of the forensic medicine department at the interior ministry, and who Turkish officials have named as one of the 15-person group.
If the autopsy specialist left Saudi Arabia for Istanbul before Khashoggi entered the consulate, as Turkish sources have asserted, it might be hard to square with the explanation that any killing was the result of a botched interrogation, and not premeditated.
Earlier Monday, President Donald Trump suggested that “rogue killers” could be behind Khashoggi’s disappearance, after a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman about the case. Trump said King Salman told him “in a very firm way that they had no knowledge of it.”
Later Monday, Trump said he had seen the latest media reports. But he said he did not know if the report is accurate or just “rumor.”
The President said he remains eager to get to the bottom of what happened to Khashoggi. He noted that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are “working together” to determine what happened.
The President said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will “immediately get on a plane” to Saudi Arabia and will likely also go to Turkey “if necessary.” On the airplane, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters that Secretary Pompeo “looks forward to meeting with King Salman.”
Even if the Trump administration accepts the new Saudi explanation, members of Congress might not. Democratic lawmakers criticized the President for his comments after the call with King Salman.
“Been hearing the ridiculous ‘rogue killers’ theory was where the Saudis would go with this,” Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said on Twitter. “Absolutely extraordinary they were able to enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it,” he added.