Saudi Arabia is preparing a report that would admit missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed as the result of an interrogation gone wrong, according to Middle East Eye (MEE), citing CNN and its two unnamed sources.
One source cautioned that the report was still being prepared and could change, CNN said, while the other source said the report would likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and that those involved would be held responsible.
If confirmed, the CNN report marks a stark reversal of earlier statements by Saudi officials who insisted that Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, left the building a short time after he arrived.
A source close to the Turkish investigation told MEE that Turkish authorities had discounted the theory early on that the incident was a botched interrogation.
The source said audio and video recordings showed Khashoggi’s interrogation was “extremely violent” from the beginning, signaling an intent to kill the journalist.
However, a senior source with knowledge of the Turkish investigation told MEE last week that the Saudis were on the verge of accepting Turkey’s evidence that a major crime took place at the consulate.
The Saudis intend to blame elements within their country’s “deep state” security establishment for the journalist’s kidnapping, the source said.
The source said the Saudis are hoping to build a firewall around powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has insisted he knows nothing about an alleged kidnapping operation.
The New York Times, citing a person familiar with the Saudi plans, also reported on Monday that the Saudi government would shield the prince by blaming an intelligence official for the botched operation.
US President Donald Trump appeared to back that theory on Monday when he suggested that “rogue” elements within the Saudi state may be behind Khashoggi’s alleged murder.
“The denial was very, very strong,” Trump told reporters at the White House after a phone call with Saudi King Salman. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi royal family and prominent columnist for The Washington Post, had been living in self-imposed exile in the US. He went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve paperwork.
Turkish officials have accused Saudi agents of killing the journalist inside the consulate.
Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.
On Monday, Turkish police and other officials finally entered the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul, days after the Saudis first said that a forensics team could probe the building to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkish officials have confirmed to MEE that the consulate, the house of the consul general and diplomatic cars will be searched by investigators.