Saudi Arabia is preparing to admit that missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, U.S. news organizations report.
The stories quote sources who say Khashoggi’s death was an “interrogation that went wrong.” CNN reports those behind the operation may have intended to kidnap Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and take him back to Saudi Arabia for questioning.
Stories say the Saudi report is expected to say that the operation that led to his death was carried out without official clearance and that those behind his death will be held responsible.
Khashoggi was seen walking into the consulate two weeks ago and has not been seen since.
Earlier Monday, President Donald Trump suggested “rogue killers” might have murdered him.
Trump said Saudi King Salman told him in a 20-minute phone conversation Monday he had no knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi, a critic of the heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“His denials to me could not have been stronger,” Trump said at the White House. “Maybe I do not want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers — I mean, who knows?”
Trump has sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to talk with Salman about Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Trump vowed to “leave nothing uncovered” in determining what happened to Khashoggi.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkish police started a search of the Saudi Arabian consulate.
Khashoggi entered the consulate October 2 to get documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain outside for Khashoggi to return.
Late Sunday, the Saudi monarch and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed forming a joint working group to look into the disappearance of Khashoggi, whom Turkish officials believe was murdered by Saudi agents inside the consulate.
Saudi Arabia has called the allegations “baseless” and said Khashoggi left the consulate on his own. But neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia has provided clear evidence to support its version of events.
Trump told the CBS news show 60 Minutes on Sunday that Saudi Arabia would face “severe punishment” if it is determined Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate, but Riyadh dismissed the U.S. threat and said it would retaliate if Trump took any action against Saudi Arabia.
The official Saudi Press Agency quoted an unnamed government source Sunday as saying, “The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusations.”
The statement said the Saudi government “also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action,” noting that its economy, as the world’s biggest oil exporter, “has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”
Khashoggi was living in self-imposed exile in the United States and had criticized the Saudi crown prince in columns written for The Washington Post.
Trump said “nobody knows yet” what happened inside the consulate, “but we’ll probably be able to find out” if the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder. Trump added the United States “would be very upset and angry if that were the case.”
But Trump, who has frequently boasted about his business ties with the kingdom, suggested during the CBS interview that ending U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia would not be an option, saying, “I don’t want to hurt jobs.”
In protest of Khashoggi’s disappearance, several U.S. businesses leaders have pulled out of next week’s Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” after the annual meeting of world economic interests in Switzerland.
Media reports say Khashoggi may have recorded his own death on his Apple Watch. The reports say Khashoggi turned on the sound recording capability on his device as he entered the Saudi consulate, and that the watch was connected to the iCloud and cell phone he left with his fiancee Cengiz before he went inside.
Cengiz said she waited for Khashoggi to come out of the consulate, but he never left.
The Washington Post reported in recent days that the Turkish government informed U.S. officials it was in possession of video recordings that prove Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, but have not made them public.