RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - After 17 long days, Saudi Arabia has finally offered clarity on the fate of its veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who mysteriously disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
On October 2, the 59-year-old Saudi journalist found himself at the centre of a diplomatic firestorm after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, never to return.
With Khashoggi being a prominent critic of Saudi policies and the Kingdom's young Crown Prince leading a campaign to crush dissent, several nations immediately questioned Saudi about the fate of the journalist.
With Turkey alleging that Saudi Arabia had conspired to kill Khashoggi within the consulate and western nations - especially the U.S. facing pressure to confront the Kingdom over the disappearance of the self-exiled Washington Post columnist - now, Saudi Arabia has finally made an announcement.
'Fatal fist fight'
Jamal Khashoggi, who has been both a friend and foe to the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia, reportedly died inside the consulate.
On Friday, 17 days after Khashoggi went missing, Saudi Arabia's government issued a statement via the official Saudi Press Agency - which was announced to the world through the State TV.
The statement said that Khashoggi died during a fight inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.
Citing preliminary findings of an official investigation, the Saudi State TV report said that a fight broke out between Khashoggi and people who met him at the consulate on October 2.
It added that the veteran journalist died during that fist fight.
Revealing more details following the initial announcement, the Saudi Foreign Ministry posted a message on Twitter, which said that the findings were based on an initial investigation conducted by the government’s general prosecutor.
The ministry revealed that Khashoggi was engaged in a discussion with some people inside the consulate when a fight broke out, which immediately escalated into a fatal physical fight.
The official news agency said that the preliminary investigation conducted by the prosecutor found that the “suspects” traveled to Istanbul to meet with Khashoggi as he had expressed interest in returning to Saudi Arabia.
It said that discussions that took place “developed in a negative way” and “led to a fight and a quarrel between some of them and the citizen. The brawl aggravated to lead to his death and their attempt to conceal and cover what happened."
It continued, “The Kingdom expresses its deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place and stresses the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the public."
Dismissed and detained
The statement from the Saudi government also revealed that five top officials had been fired and 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested in connection with the case.
While neither of the detainees was named, the statement said, "Investigations are continuing with the 18 detainees."
However, the dismissals emerged as the most significant part of the Kingdom's announcement.
According to the official statement, the Kingdom's deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri - who was reportedly linked to the case - had been fired.
Further, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s adviser Saud al-Qahtani too had been dismissed following the initial probe.
Several other senior military officials were said to have been fired, including Gen. Rashad bin Hamid al Mihmadi, General Abdullah bin Khalef al Shaiyi, and General Mohammed bin Saleh al Rumaih.
The dismissal of Qahtani and Assiri was most significant.
One of Mohammed's closest advisors, Qahtani had reportedly gained the reputation of being the 'Saudi Steve Bannon' since he had created a “blacklist” of online critics of Saudi Arabia.
Further, one of his highly circulated tweet from last year earned him the tag of serving as the strategist and enforcer of the Crown Prince.
After Friday's announcement, his tweet from 2017 was widely shared.
On August 17, 2017, describing himself on Twitter, Qahtani wrote, "Do you think I can act by myself without taking orders/guidance? I am an employee and a trustworthy executive to the orders of the king and the crown prince.”
Further, in the aftermath of Friday's announcement, it was also revealed that earlier this summer, Qahtani reached out to Khashoggi and attempted to persuade him to come back to Saudi Arabia.
This is reportedly when U.S. intelligence officials said that there had been an attempt to lure him back to the kingdom to detain him.
Meanwhile, the other significant dismissal, that of the Kingdom's deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri was also noted by experts since the official has also been close to the crown prince.
Before being handed the intelligence position, Assiri served as the public face of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in the war in Yemen for two years.
In the role, Assiri became more prominently recognized by the global media since he held regular news briefings on the state of the battle and often promoted the "professionalism of the Saudi war effort."
The intelligence officer is known to speak fluent French and English.