Saudi Arabia claims missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed 'in a fight'

Saudi Arabia admitted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in its Istanbul consulate

Saudi Arabian prosecutors believe missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul during a fight, according to state-run media.

The kingdom has said that 18 suspects are in custody following the death of the Washington Post columnist.

Saudi intelligence officials have reportedly been dismissed in the aftermath of his disappearance on October 2.

The kingdom’s account, which follow’s an initial blanket denial of involvement, is vastly different to that of Turkish officials, who made allegations of an ‘assassination squad’.

US President Donald Trump previously warned he would consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia over Mr Khashoggi, since the apparent confirmation of his death, Trump has said he believed the Saudi explanation to be credible.

Trump said: “Saudi Arabia has been a great ally, but what happened is unacceptable,” the president said.

On the Saudi arrests, he added: “It’s a big first step. It’s only a first step, but it’s a big first step.”

The president said he needed to speak with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before deciding what action the US would take.

President Trump told reporters after signing a presidential memo in Arizona on Friday that he will involve Congress in any decision. But he says he will be making “certain recommendations”.

He says that it is still “too early” to determine potential consequences but that he expects to know more by Monday.

He says: “We’re going to find out who knew what when and where and we’ll figure it out.”

Despite Trump’s apparent satisfaction with the Saudi statement, politicians including Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham expressed scepticism about the kingdom’s account, which was vastly different from that given by Turkish officials, who said an “assassination squad” sent by the kingdom had killed and dismembered Mr Khashoggi.

“First we were told Mr Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement,” Mr Graham tweeted on Friday. “Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince.”

A security guard walks outside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Mr Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and royal court insider for decades in Saudi Arabia, had written columns critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the kingdom’s direction while living in self-imposed exile in the US. He went to the Saudi consulate to obtain paperwork for his forthcoming marriage.

“The Saudi ‘explanation’ for murdering journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi in a consulate – a fistfight gone wrong – is insulting,” tweeted Senator Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee. “Since the Trump Administration won’t stand up against atrocity, Congress must.”

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California said Saudi Arabia’s claim that Mr Khashoggi died in a brawl was not credible.

“If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” said Mr Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump Administration will not take the lead, Congress must,” he said.

In a statement on Friday night, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the US will closely follow international investigations into Mr Khashoggi’s death and will advocate for justice that is “timely, transparent and in accordance with all due process”.