Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Sunday that a “tremendous mistake” was made when Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and pushed back against the idea that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was linked to the journalist’s death.
Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News host Brett Baier that Khashoggi was killed in a “criminal” act committed by individuals operating “outside the scope of their authority.”
“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up. That is unacceptable in any government,” he said. He characterized the killing as an “aberration” that did not fit with the behavior of the Saudi regime.
Al-Jubeir said investigators still don’t know the details of how Khashoggi was killed nor where his body is located. Reports have said Khashoggi was dismembered, but the foreign minister said he could not confirm how the body was disposed of.
Khashoggi disappeared Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents in preparation for his marriage. Video footage showed Khashoggi entering, but no video ever showed him leaving.
For more than two weeks, Saudi officials denied any knowledge of the journalist’s fate.
The foreign minister said Sunday that Saudi security forces originally filed a report that said Khashoggi left the consulate alive. King Salman ordered an investigation when Turkish reports emerged saying Khashoggi never left the compound, contradicting the story from Saudi security.
The regime said 18 people had been arrested in connection with Khashoggi’s death. Al-Jubeir said those arrests were the “first step in a long journey.” He promised a long and thorough investigation would continue.
“We are determined to uncover every stone. We are determined to uncover all the facts and we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder,” he said. He added that Saudi Arabia will enforce “checks and balances” on the nation’s intelligence services to “ensure that something like this can never happen again.”
Al-Jubeir’s defense on Fox aired the day after President Donald Trump accused the Saudis of lying about Khashoggi’s death, even as he continued to defend the leadership of the crown prince.
Al-Jubeir denied that individuals involved in Khashoggi’s death were tied to the prince. He acknowledged that “there were pictures of some security officers who may have been part of his security detail from time to time.”
But the foreign minister said that was normal and that security officers rotate among officials.
“This was an operation that was a rogue operation,” he said. “This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made the mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it.”
The foreign minister became defensive when asked why it took Saudi Arabia more than two weeks to confirm that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, arguing that his government wanted to wait until it had the most accurate information possible.
“These things take time. You may want to look back at the issue of Abu Ghraib and the timeline between when the incidents were discovered and when the U.S government came out with an initial report of what happened,” he said in a reference to the explosive 2004 scandal that exposed U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The reference was also clearly meant as a reminder that America has had its own instances of governmental actors behaving criminally.
Al-Jubeir dismissed media reports about Khashoggi’s death as “heresy” and “gossip” and cautioned that people should wait for the results of the Saudi investigation.
Khashoggi’s editor at The Washington Post, Karen Attiah, said she didn’t buy the story that the columnist had died during an altercation.
“I still believe, and the Post as an institution still believes, that this is not an explanation. This is an attempt at a cover-up,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”
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