Rights group Amnesty International has called on Saudi Arabia to “immediately produce” the body of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi so an autopsy can be completed.
Khashoggi reportedly was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Saudi Arabia says preliminary results from its investigation show he died after a fight with people he met in the consulate.
Amnesty’s director of campaigns for the Middle East, Samah Hadid, said the Saudi version of events cannot be trusted. He said a United Nations investigation would be necessary to avoid a “Saudi whitewash” of the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death.
Hadid said such a cover-up may have been undertaken to preserve Saudi Arabia’s international business ties.
Earlier Saturday, a statement from the Saudi public prosecutor carried by Saudi state TV said 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested so far in connection with Khashoggi’s death. The statement said royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Assiri have been fired from their positions.
The prosecutor said the investigation into Khashoggi’s death remains underway.
The state-run news agency also said King Salman has also ordered the formation of a ministerial committee headed by the crown prince to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence services.
Saturday’s comments are the first admission by the Saudi government that Khashoggi died.
Turkish officials had said they believed he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after he entered the building on October 2 to retrieve paperwork for his upcoming wedding. Saudi Arabia had previously denied the allegations and said Khashoggi had left the building shortly after.
The White House said in a statement it “acknowledges the announcement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that its investigation into the fate of Jamal Khashoggi is progressing and that it has taken action against the suspects it has identified thus far.”
When asked about the Saudi announcement, President Donald Trump told reporters in Arizona “It’s a big first step.” However, he said, “We do have some questions” for the Saudis, and added “we’ll be working with Congress.”
He said that he wants to talk to the Saudi crown prince before the next steps are taken.
When asked whether the Saudis can produce a credible report about the killing of Khashoggi, Trump said, “We’re involved. Turkey is involved. … This has been a horrible event. It has not gone unnoticed.”
Before the Saudi announcement, Trump told reporters Friday he might consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Khashoggi.
Earlier Friday, Turkish police said they questioned employees of the Saudi consulate in their ongoing investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. More than a dozen Turkish employees of the Saudi consulate were interviewed, including the consul general’s driver, technicians, accountants and telephone operators, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the Khashoggi’s disappearance during an interview Friday with VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren.
Trump has warned there would be “very severe” consequences if Saudi Arabia is behind the disappearance of the journalist, but Pompeo said, “I’m not going to get into what those responses might be. We’ll certainly consider a wide range of potential responses, but I think the important thing to do is that the facts come out.”
Pompeo, who traveled to Riyadh earlier this week to speak to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, told VOA, “I made very clear to them that the United States takes this matter very seriously. That we don’t approve of extrajudicial killings. That we don’t approve of that kind of activity. That it’s not something consistent with American values, and that it is their responsibility as this incident happened in the consulate.”
“It’s their responsibility to get to the bottom of this, to put the facts out clearly, accurately, completely, transparently, in a way that the whole world can see,” Pompeo said. “And once we’ve identified the fact set, then they have the responsibility and the first instance to hold accountable those inside the country that may have been involved in any wrongdoing.”
Turkish authorities also denied Friday they have shared with U.S. officials an audio recording of the torture and killing of Khashoggi.
Media reports said Pompeo heard the recording earlier in the week when he visited Turkey. But Pompeo, traveling in Mexico, told reporters, “I’ve seen no tape … I’ve heard no tape. I’ve seen no transcript.”
According to Anadolu, Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “It is out of the question for us to share this or that information with any country.”
Late Friday, some U.S. lawmakers weighed in on the Saudi announcement about Khashoggi’s fate.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, tweeted, “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement.”
Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. should pursue sanctions against those Saudis involved in the journalist’s death under the Sergei Magnitsky, which is named after the anti-corruption Russian accountant who died in police custody.
“The Global Magnitsky Act doesn’t have exceptions for accidents. Even if Khashoggi died because of an altercation, that’s no excuse for his murder,” Menendez tweeted on Friday. “This is far from the end and we need to keep up the international pressure.”