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Saudi prosecutor says Khashoggi murder was premeditated

Saudi officials had first denied that journalist was dead, then said he died as a result of a fight in the consulate, and then because of a chokehold
The Saudi flag flies over the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul where Jamal Khashoggi was killed (Reuters)

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was "premeditated", Saudi state-run media reported on Thursday.

In a statement to the Saudi Press Agency, the public prosecutor said that assessment was based on evidence provided by the Turkish authorities.

"Information from the Turkish authorities indicates that the act of the suspects in the Khashoggi case was premeditated," the public prosector said.

Saudi officials originally said that Khashoggi had left the consulate following his disappearance after entering the building on 2 October.

They later admitted he had died inside the consulate, but blamed his death on a fight, and then said he had died as a consequence of a chokehold.

Turkish investigators suspect that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in a planned operation.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Khashoggi had been the victim of a "gruesome murder" and indicated that Turkey would not accept blame for the killing being pinned on low-ranked security and intelligence officials.

He said Saudi Arabia had arrested 15 Saudi suspects who flew to Turkey shortly before the attack, as well as three local consulate staff, and called for the 18 to stand trial in Istanbul.

The case has cast scrutiny on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Middle East Eye revealed that at least seven of the 15 suspects who flew to Istanbul were members of his personal security detail.

MEE also revealed details about a hit squad set up by bin Salman to target dissidents and critics both inside Saudi Arabia and abroad.

Speaking at an investment conference in Riyadh on Wednesday, bin Salman described Khashoggi's killing as "a heinous crime that cannot be justified".

He said Saudi authorities were working with Turkey on the case.

"Undoubtedly, the cooperation today between the Saudi and Turkish governments is unique and we know that many are trying to use this painful thing to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey," he said.

Saudi officials have told the Reuters news agency that bin Salman had no knowledge of the killing and that there had been no orders to kill him or kidnap him.

Several senior figures close to bin Salman were dismissed on Saturday including Maj General Ahmed al-Assiri, a top intelligence official, and Saoud al-Qahtani, bin Salman's close advisor.

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Khashoggi's murder has also put pressure on US President Donald Trump over his administration's close ties to bin Salman, with a bill introduced to the House of Representatives on Wednesday calling for US arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be suspended.

Trump's own comments about Khashoggi's death have been erratic and inconsistent, with the US President initially speculating that "rogue killers" could have carried out the operation.

But earlier this week Trump conceded that bin Salman could have been involved in what he described as "the worst cover-up ever", telling the Washington Post newspaper: "He's running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him."

MEE understands that Turkish officials played an audio recording of the killing and shared other evidence with CIA chief Gina Haspel, who visited Ankara on Tuesday to discuss the case.

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