Khashoggi murder: Crown prince vows to punish 'culprits'

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin SalmanImage source, AFP
Image caption,
The Saudis have previously denied accusations that the prince himself had a role in the killing

The Saudi crown prince has vowed to punish all the "culprits" responsible for the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

Speaking at a business forum in Riyadh, Mohammed bin Salman said "the crime was painful to all Saudis" but he would never allow any rift with Turkey.

The Saudis have previously denied accusations that the prince, the de facto ruler, had a role in the killing.

Khashoggi died during a 2 October visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Saudi government has blamed the murder on "rogue agents".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the journalist, a prominent critic of the government, was the victim of a carefully planned "political murder" by Saudi intelligence officers and other officials.

What did the crown prince say?

These were his first public comments since the Saudis admitted Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate.

He said the killing was "a heinous crime that cannot be justified" and vowed that "those behind this crime will be held accountable... in the end justice will prevail".

He said there had been good co-operation with Turkey, adding: "A lot of people are trying to seize this painful situation to create a rift between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. And I want to send them a message: you will never be able to do that.

"The rift will never be there."

The three-day conference, called the Future Investment Initiative but dubbed "Davos in the desert" after the Swiss forum, is important for the Saudis but has already been boycotted by many Western business leaders and politicians.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The Saudi crown prince met Khashoggi's son, Salah, in Riyadh on Tuesday

The Saudis have tried to portray business as usual at the forum, although Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih acknowledged on Tuesday there was a "crisis" over the Khashoggi issue.

On Tuesday the crown prince joined his father, King Salman, in meeting members of the Khashoggi family.

The crown prince, 33, is considered the de facto ruler of the world's leading oil exporter. He has won some plaudits for reform, but also heavy criticism for the handling of Yemen and Qatar - and even calls to be replaced after the Khashoggi affair, amid suspicion of how much he was involved.

Quips that mask a harsher reality

BBC's Sebastian Usher in Riyadh

It was a subject that could not be avoided. The moderator cleared his throat and asked the crown prince what he had to say.

The prince declared his own and his country's revulsion at what happened. He then said that many people were trying to exploit the affair to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

At the end, a now relaxed and laughing Mohammed bin Salman even made a joke about the man sitting beside him - Lebanese PM Saad Hariri, who a year ago announced his resignation during a visit to Riyadh, reportedly after facing huge pressure from the prince.

The prince quipped that Mr Hariri planned to stay a couple more days in Saudi Arabia, but that he wasn't being kidnapped. If the reaction of the audience was anything to go by, the crown prince scored a PR triumph.

But it's the outside world that matters - and its judgement is likely to be harsher, questioning whether the prince has really faced up to the huge challenge to his and his country's credibility and trustworthiness.

What's the latest with the investigation?

The key issue is the body, of which there is still no sign.

The latest focus appears to be on a well in the garden of the Saudi consulate building.

As with much of the investigation there have been conflicting reports. The Anadolu agency initially reported the Saudis had denied permission for it to be searched, only for broadcaster NTV to say later that permission had been given.

On Tuesday there were similar conflicting reports over whether Khashoggi's belongings had been found in suitcases in a Saudi diplomatic car.

Mr Erdogan has said Turkey has strong evidence the journalist was killed in a premeditated and "savage" murder and has called for the suspects to be tried in Istanbul.

What is Donald Trump's line?

The Wall Street Journal published what appears to be his strongest criticism of the Saudi government to date.

Media caption,

The US President criticises Saudi Arabia's handling of Jamal Khashoggi's death

When asked about responsibility, Mr Trump said: "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."

Earlier he said: "They had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly and the cover-up was the worst in the history of cover-ups."

The US has vowed to revoke the visas of those believed responsible for Khashoggi's killing - Saudi Arabia says 18 Saudi nationals have been detained - but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the punishment would not stop there.

On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May followed suit, saying anyone suspected of involvement in the killing would be barred from entering Britain.

How has the Saudi story changed?

First, Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi had left the building alive, then that he had been killed in a "fist-fight" inside the consulate.

Media caption,

Jamal Khashoggi and how Saudi critics keep going missing

It finally said that Khashoggi had been murdered in a "rogue operation" that the leadership had not been aware of.

An unnamed Saudi official told Reuters news agency on Sunday that Khashoggi had died in a chokehold after resisting attempts to return him to Saudi Arabia.

His body was then rolled in a rug and given to a local "co-operator" to dispose of, the official said.