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Here's what we know about Khashoggi's death after Saudi U-turn

Image: Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. Copyright Hasan Jamali
Copyright Hasan Jamali
By Saphora Smith and Gabe Joselow with NBC News World News
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The acknowledgment that the writer was killed in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate marks a dramatic reversal from previous vehement denials.


Saudi Arabia's king and crown prince have called the family of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi to offer their condolences, and the country's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir called his "murder" a "tremendous mistake" on Sunday.

In an interview with Fox News, Jubeir described Khashoggi's killing as a "rogue operation" and said Saudi Arabia wanted to make sure "those who are responsible are punished."

The acknowledgment that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul marks a 180-degree change from the Saudi government's previous and vehement denials that anything happened to him there on Oct. 2.

With Khashoggi's killing confirmed by the kingdom, NBC News takes stock of what we know so far.

Who is Jamal Khashoggi?

A prominent journalist and former newspaper editor in Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi was once close to the inner circle of the kingdom's huge royal family.

Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain.
Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. Hasan Jamali

Khashoggi also served as an adviser to the kingdom's former head of intelligence, but went into self-imposed exile in the U.S. after Mohammed bin Salman replaced his older cousin Muhammad bin Nayef as crown prince in June 2017. Last year, Khashoggi became a contributor to The Washington Post and wrote pieces critical of the crown prince, Saudi Arabia's putative leader who has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

Friends of the missing journalist described him as being deeply afraid of his country's rulers.

What do we know about his death?

Khashoggi entered the consulate earlier this month to obtain documents needed for his planned marriage to Turkish citizen, Hatice Cengiz.

After repeated claims that he left the building on the same day, Saudi officials now claim that he died there after a "quarrel and fighting by hand."

The Saudi public prosecutor said Friday that 18 Saudi nationals were being investigated over Khashoggi's death. The Saudi government also said five Saudi officials had been fired.

A "suspect" had traveled to Istanbul to meet with Khashoggi after it appeared there was "a possibility" of returning the journalist to Saudi Arabia, according to the Saudi government.

Inside the consulate, discussions escalated into a fight that resulted in Khashoggi's death and those involved then attempted to cover it up, continued the official account.

Jubeir denied the kingdom's crown prince had prior knowledge of the operation.

"There obviously was a tremendous mistake, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover it up," he told Fox News.

Turkish officials revealed information about a supposed 15-person hit team on Oct. 16, providing NBC News with scans of passports they say belonged to seven of them.


Saudi U-turn

These accounts mark a total reversal from previous Saudi statements regarding Khashoggi.

Before Friday's announcement, the Saudi government repeatedly denied and condemned allegations that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate. Instead, officials claimed the journalist left the building the same day he entered it.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.Beawiharta

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities told both international and Turkish media that they had audio recordings proving he was killed inside the consulate.

Where was Khashoggi's body?

"We don't know where the body is," Jubeir told Fox News Sunday.


The foreign minister said the Saudi government was working with Turkey on what happened to Khashoggi's body.

The Turkish authorities have alleged Khashoggi was dismembered, and other regional diplomats have told NBC News they believe he was removed from the consulate in boxes.

Last week, the Turkish police expanded their investigation to a forest on the outskirts of Istanbul and another city, Yalova, a police source with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News.

Investigators have CCTV footage of Saudi diplomatic vehicles in these two areas following Khashoggi's disappearance, the source said. Police believe these areas could be the dumping ground for Khashoggi's remains.


Who has been punished?

Saudi Arabia has said that 18 Saudi citizens have been detained following an initial investigation into Khashoggi's death by the Saudi government.

Pictures of Jamal Khashoggi hang on a police barrier during a protest by the Turkish-Arabic Media Association in front of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 8.
Pictures of Jamal Khashoggi hang on a police barrier during a protest by the Turkish-Arabic Media Association in front of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 8.Tolga Bozoglu

The Saudi government announced Friday that five Saudi officials had been fired following the investigation into Khashoggi's killing, including the deputy president of intelligence, Ahmed Bin Hassan Bin Mohamed Assiri and royal court adviser, Saud bin Abdullah Al Qahtani.

The government also said Saudi King Salman had directed his son, bin Salman, to lead the restructuring of the intelligence service.

How has the U.S. reacted?

Trump has alternated between voicing strong warnings to the kingdom and striking a more conciliatory tone.


In an interview with The Washington Post late Saturday, the president offered sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia's explanation of Khashoggi's death, saying "obviously there's been deception, and there's been lies."

In previous comments he said he thought the Saudi government's explanation of how the writer died was credible. But the president has also cautioned that the U.S. had not yet finished its own review and said he would not be satisfied until "we find the answer."

Trump, who has made Saudi Arabia a linchpin of his Middle East policies, has also repeatedly brought up a major arms deal with the kingdom that he says is worth $110 billion.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have called on the president to hold Saudi Arabia accountable.


NBC News reported Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies believe it's inconceivable that bin Salman had no connection to his Khashoggi's death, but still have no "smoking gun" evidence that he ordered the journalist killed, citing multiple government officials.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Fox News that he did not think the Saudis' explanation was "credible at all."

"It's ridiculous to believe 18 people would go to Turkey to kill Mr. Khashoggi and nobody in the government know about it," he said.

After days of will-he-won't-he speculation, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchintweeted Thursdaythat he would not be participating in Saudi Arabia's Future Investment Initiative economic conference which begins Tuesday.


What's next?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Trump spoke on the phone on Sunday evening and agreed that the Khashoggi case needed to be "cleared up," according the Erdogan's office.

Erdogan said Sunday that he would reveal more about the investigation on Tuesday.

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