Saudi crown prince breaks silence on ‘heinous’ Khashoggi killing, as suspicions swirl about his role
- Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed that the killers of Jamal Khashoggi would face justice
- But Turkey said he had blood on his hands, and Donald Trump suggested the prince bore ultimate responsibility
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised on Wednesday that the killers of Jamal Khashoggi would be brought to justice, in his first public comments since the journalist’s murder sparked international condemnation and suspicions about his role in the killing.
The prince told a major investment conference in Riyadh that Saudi Arabia and Turkey would work together “to reach results” on a joint investigation into what he called a “heinous” crime.
“The crime was very painful to all Saudis. And it is painful, heinous to every human being in the world,” he said. “Those behind this crime will be held accountable … in the end justice will prevail.”
He described cooperation between Riyadh and Ankara as “special” despite fierce criticism from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his aides.
Hours earlier US President Donald Trump, in his toughest comments yet, told The Wall Street Journal that the crown prince bore ultimate responsibility for the operation that led to Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Trump said he wanted to believe Mohammed when he said that lower-level officials were to blame for the October 2 killing at the Saudi mission.
But Trump suggested that responsibility lay higher up: “Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things, and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”
His comments heaped pressure on his close ally amid a global outcry over the journalist’s death, and came hours before Mohammed’s appearance at the Saudi investment conference.
A number of high-profile business and political figures have pulled out of the conference over the death of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Addressing a panel at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Mohammed said that many parties were trying to exploit the incident to “drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey”.
“I want to convey them a message: they will not be able to do so as long as there is a Saudi king called Salman, and crown prince named Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and a Turkish president named Erdogan,” he said.
The prince joked about Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s detention in the kingdom last year, saying he was free to leave after attending the international investment conference in Riyadh.
“Prime Minister Saad is staying in the kingdom for two days, so I hope you don’t spread rumours that he was kidnapped,” he said during a panel discussion at the event.
Hariri, sitting beside the prince, even took part in the humour as the audience laughed. “With all my freedom,” he said.
Hariri, who has Saudi citizenship, was summoned to Riyadh a year ago, briefly detained and compelled to resign as prime minister in a speech read on television until France intervened to free him. He rescinded his resignation.
Erdogan spoke to Mohammed on Wednesday, and the two discussed the steps needed to bring to light all aspects of the killing of Khashoggi, a presidential source said.
An adviser to Turkey’s president said the prince had “blood on his hands” over Khashoggi, the bluntest language yet from someone linked to Erdogan.
Riyadh has blamed a “rogue operation” for the death of the prominent Saudi journalist and said that the crown prince had no knowledge of the killing.
The death of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, has sparked global outrage and threatened relations between Riyadh and Washington as well as with other Western nations.
For Saudi Arabia’s allies, the burning question has been whether they believe that Mohammed, who has painted himself as a reformer, has any culpability in the killing, a possibility raised by several US lawmakers.
People seen on closed-circuit monitors entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the time of Khashoggi’s apparent murder have been linked to the prince, including members of his security detail. A key aide to the prince has also been fired over his suspected role in the killing.
Additional reporting by DPA and Agence France-Presse