The Saudi government has released a new account of the death of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, outlining that he expired in a chokehold and his body was smuggled out of the Istanbul consulate in a rug.
In the latest of a series of shifting versions of what happened to Khashoggi, a journalist and former regime insider who turned against the royal family, an anonymous official spoke to Reuters.
The official sought to blame Khashoggi for initiating the struggle that led to his death by “shouting” and also suggested he was physically out of condition. After the death, a member of the Saudi team that killed him dressed up in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear he had walked out of the consulate. The official said that conflicting prior claims regarding Khashoggi's death were the result of “false information reported internally at the time” from the team that met with the journalist.
[New: After Khashoggi disappeared, a Saudi agent left the consulate wearing his clothes]
“Once it became clear these initial mission reports were false, (the government) launched an internal investigation and refrained from further public comment,” the official said, noting that probe into the death was ongoing.
The official said Khashoggi was ushered into a room at the Istanbul consulate with 15 government officials sent from Riyadh to deal with the dissident reporter. They told him told to return to Saudi Arabia. He refused and asked: “What are you going to do with me? Do you intend to kidnap me?”
One of the 15, identified as Maher Mutreb, told Khashoggi, “Yes, we will drug you and kidnap you.” The anonymous official said this was an attempt at intimidating the reporter that was not sanctioned by the group's superiors. Khashoggi responded by trying to yell for help. The others in the room with Khashoggi then panicked and attempted to quiet him.
“They tried to prevent him from shouting but he died,” the official said, claiming the 59 year-old Khashoggi was not in the best shape. “The intention was not to kill him. ... If you put someone of Jamal’s age in this position, he would probably die.”
The officials then put Khashoggi's body in a rug and snuck it out of the embassy where it was given to a “local cooperator” for disposal.
Turkish officials believe Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by an assassination squad by the order of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi government initially denied that it had any role in Khashoggi's disappearance but finally admitted on Friday that he died inside the consulate, blaming his death on an argument that escalated between the journalist and unidentified men inside the Saudi consulate. The Saudis have set up a commission, led by the crown prince, to investigate the death.
Washington Post global opinion editor Karen Attiah said earlier on ABC News Sunday that Khashoggi would never have initiated any kind of fight and discounted that an accident could have occurred. "This idea of a brawl, this man was kind and calm and gentle. That any sort of brawl took place -- if we give any sort of credence of this, he walked into an ambush that was set up for him," she said.