By Josh Babb
Rabat - Saudi Arabia’s admission that the killing of Khashoggi was premeditated reverses earlier claims that the journalist accidentally died in a fistfight.
In yet another shift of Riyadh’s official account, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said early Thursday that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a planned operation, reversing the narrative that Khashoggi had died accidently following a fight inside the consulate.
The announcement was made following reports that Turkish President Erdogan and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) had a phone conversation on Wednesday, marking the first time the two have spoken since Jamal Khashoggi’s killing on October 2.
News of the conversation came as Turkish investigators once again returned to the grounds of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, continuing their search for the remains of the slain journalist.
Turkish officials did not give an immediate read-out of the conversation, only saying the two leaders discussed “joint efforts” to further investigate the matter. The talks come as both countries send sharply contrasting signals about who is at fault for Khashoggi’s murder.
On Wednesday, before Erdogan spoke with MBS he stated that anyone found responsible for ordering Khashoggi’s death will not be able to “avoid justice.”
Speaking to attendees at Saudi Arabia’s highly-publicized Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, MBS called the murder a “heinous crime.” He added, though, that he hoped Khashoggi’s death would not leave a “wedge” in relations between the Saudis and other countries.
Reports also surfaced that American CIA Director Gina Haspel heard an alleged recording of Khashoggi’s murder on a trip to Istanbul. She has been in the city since Monday in an effort to gather more information from Turkish authorities.
Although the audio may be useful in dispelling the fistfight narrative, it likely does not answer the key question at the heart of the case: Did MBS have direct knowledge of Khashoggi’s premeditated murder?
European officials had expressed skepticism of Saudi’s fistfight claims. British Prime Minister Theresa May told Britain’s Parliament that the fistfight account “does not amount to a credible explanation.”
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Saudi King Salman on Wednesday, expressing his disapproval of the dissident’s murder and demanding a credible investigation.
The French government last week announced they will suspend all political visits to Saudi Arabia, saying they are also prepared to join any international effort to sanction those found guilty of Khashoggi’s murder.