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Saudi Arabia claims Jamal Khashoggi died during a “fist-fight”

For the first time Saudi Arabia has confirmed the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after initially providing strenuous denials.

Khashoggi, a journalist for the Washington Post and US resident, initially arrived in Saudi Arabia’s consulate to file in documents certifying that he had divorced his ex-wife so that he could remarry.

Saudi Arabia initially, stated that he left the consulate building from the back but Turkish intelligence notes that this was not the case. They report that a 15-man team, including senior forensic experts and a man carrying a bone saw, were sent from Riyadh to the consulate on 2 October ahead of Khashoggi’s visit. Salah Muhammed al-Tubalgy, an autopsy expert, is reported to have told people “to listen to music on headphones while he dismembered the body”.

Saudi Arabia’s account however maintains that dispute arose between Khashoggi and Saudi officials it “did not go as required and escalated negatively which led to a fight between them … and led to his death”. They claim to be investigating the manner and have already detained 18 Saudi nationals during a preliminary investigation. They have also fired Deputy Chief of General Intelligence Ahmad bin Hassan Assiri and royal court advisor Abdullah Al-Qahtani. The Kingdom claims to be forming a committee to” restructure its intelligence agency under the supervision of Prince Mohammed, "to modernize its regulations and define its powers precisely.”

This incident has evoked international criticism and bipartisan criticism within the US. The US president has stated that the confirmation of Khashoggi’s death was a “good first step” but that what happened was “unacceptable”. In a similar vein, Republican Lindsey Graham expressed doubt over the Saudi’s narrative. Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, stated that the Saudi’s story was “not credible”.

Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a tweet: “They don’t get it. Shifting from bald-face lies (‘Khashoggi left consulate’) to faux condemnation (of a ‘rogue operation’) to claiming the wolf will credibly investigate what he did to the hen … will convince nobody.”

The US however has expressed the value of its alliance with the Saudi government. The Verge reports that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has directly and indirectly invested into American tech companies as part of an initiative to diversify its oil dependent economy. It’s economic program Vision 2030, aims to invest “at least $2 trillion within the next two decades in industries like energy and technology. The move has made Saudi Arabia the biggest investor in US tech startups, a status that may now have uncomfortable implications for the industry at large.

A spokesperson for the UN, secretary general Antonio Guterres, said he was “deeply troubled” by the events and stressed the “need for prompt, thorough, transparent investigation” into the circumstances, and full accountability for those responsible.

The New York Times reported that Saudi officials had planned to use Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri to deflect blame from the crown prince. Assiri was promoted last year to his current job in intelligence and Saudi officials contend that the murder of Khashoggi was done to prove himself to the crown prince.

In Khashoggi’s last piece for the Washington Post, he spoke on the failings of the international community which continued to turn a blind eye to despotic regimes in the Middle East and the increasing manner in which Arab governments were silencing the press.

"These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence," Khashoggi wrote.

Sources: Al Jazeera, the Guardian and the Verge.