Saudi: We don't know where Khashoggi's body is, killing a mistake

Amid shifting narratives, Foreign Minister al-Jubeir says Riyadh regrets 'rogue' killing of journalist in consulate.

    Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has said Riyadh is still not aware of where the remains of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi are, calling the killing a "rogue operation" and a "huge mistake".

    Speaking in an exclusive interview with Fox News on Sunday, Adel al-Jubeir said Khashoggi's killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul almost three weeks ago was "a terrible tragedy" that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) had nothing to do with.

    Al-Jubeir said Khashoggi was approached by "Saudi security team" when he entered the consulate on October 2. He added that the team's account of what happened after that differed from that of Turkish officials, which prompted the Saudis to investigate.

    "He was killed in the consulate. We don't know in terms of details how. We don't know where the body is," he said.

    "We are determined to uncover every stone ... We are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder."

    Shifting narratives

    The Saudis have laid out different versions of the circumstances that led to the death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of MBS, who was not seen after entering the consulate.

    Al-Jubeir was the first senior Saudi official to speak on the record since the Saudis admitted on Saturday, after more than two weeks of denials, that Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in the Turkish city.

    In a statement read out on state media, the Saudi attorney general's office claimed the 59-year-old died in a "brawl".

    The explanation marked a sharp u-turn for the kingdom which had always insisted that Khashoggi had left the consulate shortly after he had entered. It also contradicted leaked information from unnamed Turkish security sources that Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered inside the building.

    The Saudi admission, which came amid increasing pressure on Riyadh, has done little to ease international demands for accountability. Turkey has said it will not allow a "cover-up", while European leaders have said that hypotheses" proposed so far in the Saudi investigation need to be backed by facts to be considered credible.

    Eighteen men were in custody over the killing, the kingdom said on Saturday, as it also announced the sacking of two top aides of MBS, as well as three other intelligence officials.

    In the Fox News interview, al-Jubeir called the killing "a huge and grave mistake" and offered condolences to Khashoggi's family.

    "The [18] individuals did this out of the scope of their authority. They were not people closely tied to him (MBS). This was an operation that was a rogue operation," he said.

    "There were pictures of some security officers who may have been part of his security detail from time to time, but this is normal. Security people who deal with security details rotate among different officials, both domestic and foreign. So, having somebody in a picture doesn't imply that they are close at all."

    Al Jazeera Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Istanbul, said al-Jubeir's remarks did not hold up.

    "Anybody who knows how the detail of the senior government officials, heads of states, or deputy heads of states as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would know that that personal [security] detail is attached to you, is assigned to you and doesn't really shift," he said.

    He also cited reports saying that Maher Mutreb, the security officer who appeared in a photo with MBS, made four phone calls to the personal secretary of the crown prince during and after the murder of Khashoggi.

    Al-Jubeir also said he expected the US-Saudi ties to withstand the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder.

    "The US-Saudi relationship is an historic and strategic one ... I believe that when the investigation is over, and the facts are revealed, and people know who was responsible, and see those individuals punished, and procedures put in place to prevent this from happening [again], the relationship will weather this," he said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies