ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 08:  A man holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to Saudi Arabia
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 08: A man holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate on October 8, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Chris McGrath/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Now playing
02:02
Congressman: Saudis are engaged in a cover-up
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:27
Young Russians emboldened to speak up against Putin
protests russia alexey navalny putin response chance pkg vpx_00022522.png
protests russia alexey navalny putin response chance pkg vpx_00022522.png
Now playing
03:19
Kremlin tries to blame US for massive Russian protests
Now playing
01:01
Watch London police break up an illegal rave
Russia protests Alexey Navalny Putin Pleitgen pkg vpx _00015627.png
Russia protests Alexey Navalny Putin Pleitgen pkg vpx _00015627.png
PHOTO: Reuters
Now playing
02:19
Thousands turn out across Russia to protest Navalny's arrest
PHOTO: FBK
Now playing
02:52
Kremlin critic's investigation into Putin is going viral in Russia
libya russian backed mercenaries wagner investigation npw pkg intl ldn vpx_00001519.png
libya russian backed mercenaries wagner investigation npw pkg intl ldn vpx_00001519.png
Now playing
02:27
Images show huge trench being dug by Russian-backed mercenaries
screengrab who independent panel
screengrab who independent panel
PHOTO: EBS+ News
Now playing
02:34
WHO and China criticized for slow Covid-19 responses
Iraqi security forces keep guard the site of a suicide attack in Baghdad, Iraq January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
Iraqi security forces keep guard the site of a suicide attack in Baghdad, Iraq January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
PHOTO: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters
Now playing
02:42
Dozens killed and hundreds injured in Baghdad suicide blasts
PHOTO: Policia Nacional via Reters
Now playing
00:53
See the aftermath of the Madrid explosion
PHOTO: Alexey Navalny
Now playing
02:35
Navalny urges his supporters to hit the streets
TOPSHOT - Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he plunges into the icy waters during the celebration of the Epiphany holiday in Moscow region on January 19, 2021. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he plunges into the icy waters during the celebration of the Epiphany holiday in Moscow region on January 19, 2021. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
00:36
See Putin take part in traditional icy Epiphany dip
guatemala honduras migrants tear gas Oppmann intl ldn vpx_00000604.png
guatemala honduras migrants tear gas Oppmann intl ldn vpx_00000604.png
PHOTO: CNNE
Now playing
01:30
Authorities use tear gas and batons against US-bound migrants
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
04:21
Here's where the UK-US special relationship could go under Biden
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
02:41
Alexey Navalny arrested on his return to Moscow
(CNN) —  

After 18 days in which Saudi Arabia adamantly denied that any harm had come to Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul, it committed a startling about-face. Not only did Riyadh admit that Khashoggi came to a violent end, it pinned the blame on some of the closest aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, both widely known figures who shot to fame during the crown prince’s rapid rise to power, were among five high-ranking officials who were dismissed over Khashoggi’s death. Eighteen others were detained.

Assiri is a former two-star general who is considered the chief architect of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Qahtani is Prince bin Salman’s communications chief and an outspoken supporter of his controversial policies over the years – he has a Twitter following of over 1.35 million people.

In a flurry of coordinated statements, issued in the dead of night in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia claimed Khashoggi’s death was accidental. According to the Saudi Press Agency, preliminary investigations revealed that “discussions” between Khashoggi and suspects currently detained by Saudi Arabia developed into a physical altercation that resulted in Khashoggi’s death. Those responsible then tried to cover up the death, state TV said.

What will happen to those dismissed and detained is not clear. What is clear, though, is that Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agencies appeared to bear the brunt of the fallout.

Along with Assiri and Qahtani, three other high-ranking intelligence officials were fired: Mohamed bin Saleh Al-Ramih, Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Shayee and Rashad bin Hamed Al-Mohammady. King Salman has ordered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to lead the charge of revamping the country’s intelligence services.

Ahmed Asiri briefs journalists on the Saudi-led coalition
Ahmed Asiri briefs journalists on the Saudi-led coalition's strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen, during a press conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, April 18, 2015.
PHOTO: Hasan Jamali/AP

Assiri made frequent public appearances as spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, and was believed to have formed the team involved in Khashoggi’s killing, sources told CNN.

He played a key role in the arrest sweep that rounded up hundreds of princes and high-profile businessmen one year ago. The so-called anti-corruption drive generated over $100 billion in settlements.

“He’s kind of a decent guy,” Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013, said of Assiri on Thursday.

Feierstein said it was extremely unlikely Assiri would have acted against Khashoggi independently. 

“There’s no way he would take this on without coordinating with his boss,” Feierstein told CNN.

Saud al Qahtan is seen in a photo from his verified Twitter account
Saud al Qahtan is seen in a photo from his verified Twitter account
PHOTO: Saud al Qahtani/Twitter

Qahtani was also dismissed from his role as aide in the royal court, where he led the crown prince’s communications team. Two weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance, he posted a tweet apparently responding to widespread accusations that he was the mastermind of Khashoggi’s killing.

“Do you think I would create something out of the makings of my own mind and without direction? I am an employee and a faithful executor of the orders of the King and His Highness the faithful Crown Prince,” he wrote in an October 17 tweet.

It was an apparent answer to the theory, first floated by US President Donald Trump this week, that Khashoggi’s death was the result of a “rogue killing.”

Missing Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi with his fiance Hatice Cengiz
Missing Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi with his fiance Hatice Cengiz
PHOTO: Hatice Cengiz

In a February 2018 column in The Washington Post, Khashoggi mentioned Qahtani as the chief promulgator of a Saudi “blacklist” for critics of the government, and suggested that Khashoggi was among those blacklisted.

“Over the past 18 months, MBS’s communications team within the Royal Court publicly has chastised, and worse, intimidated anyone who disagrees. Saud Al-Qahtani, leader of that unit, has a blacklist and calls for Saudis to add names to it,” wrote Khashoggi. “MBS” is a reference to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

“Writers like me, whose criticism is offered respectfully, seem to be considered more dangerous than the more strident Saudi opposition based in London.,” Khashoggi wrote.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017.
PHOTO: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

Often dubbed Saudi Arabia’s version of American political strategist Steve Bannon, Qahtani is a former local journalist, who was appointed as adviser to the Saudi royal court in 2015, when he was less than 30 years old.

In an April 2018 opinion piece on Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English entitled “How to work with Mohammed bin Salman,” Qahtani wrote:

“Working with the Crown Prince is a duty; he will not compliment you; he will detect your mistakes, measure your performance, and foresee your work path. The Prince is a reference in these sciences, which are strange to our government culture. I have seen it many times.”