Saudi Arabia has blamed the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on a “rogue operation”, giving a new account of an act that sparked a global outcry.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News “the murder” had been a “tremendous mistake” and denied the powerful crown prince had ordered it.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Saudis, under intense pressure to explain Khashoggi’s whereabouts, have offered conflicting accounts.
They initially said he had left the Saudi consulate on 2 October – but on Friday admitted for the first time he was dead, saying he had been killed in a fight. This claim met widespread scepticism.
Adel al-Jubeir’s comments, describing the incident as murder, are some of the most direct to come from a Saudi official.
“We are determined to find out all the facts and we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder,” he said.
“The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority,” he added. “There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up.”
He also said that they did not know where the body was and insisted the action had not been ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen as Saudi Arabia’s most powerful figure.
“Even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this,” he said, calling it a “rogue operation”.
However, Yeni Safak, a media outlet close to Turkey’s government, says it has information showing that the office of the crown prince had received four phone calls from the consulate after the killing.
The paper, which has leaked many details of the Turkish investigation so far, suggested embassy official Maher Mutreb had used his own mobile phone to call the office, as well as an American number believed to belong to the crown prince’s younger brother, Khaled, who was Saudi ambassador to the US.
Prince Khaled bin Salman left the US soon after Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Saudi Arabia admitted for the first time on Friday that Khashoggi had died, suggesting he had been killed in a fight with some of the people he was meeting inside the consulate.
Until this point – for 18 days – the authorities had maintained that the Saudi critic was last seen leaving the building alive.
Saudi Arabia says they have arrested 18 people, sacked two aides of Mohammed bin Salman and set up a body, under his leadership, to reform the intelligence agency over the killing.
Both King Salman and the crown prince called Khashoggi’s son, Salah, on Sunday to express their condolences over his death, the Saudi Press Agency reports.
Salah Khashoggi resides in Saudi Arabia and, according to the Wall Street Journal, had been barred from leaving the country to visit his father who was living in self-imposed exile in the US.
Meanwhile, Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who raised the alarm about his disappearance after waiting for him for hours outside the consulate, was given 24-hour police protection, Turkish state news agency Anadolu reports. (Excerpts from BBC)