Update – 10.10am: The son of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi has left Saudi Arabia after the kingdom revoked a travel ban, allowing him to come to the United States.
The move is the latest event in the saga of the Saudi writer and dissident whose macabre killing earlier this month at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shocked the world.
US state department spokesman Robert Palladino said Washington welcomed the decision to have Salah Khashoggi and his family leave Saudi Arabia. His destination has not been disclosed, but his late father lived in the Washington area.
Mr Palladino said US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had discussed Jamal Khashoggi’s son during his recent visit to Riyadh and “made it clear” to Saudi leaders that Washington wanted him free to leave the kingdom.
“We are pleased that he is now able to do so,” Mr Palladino said.
Saudi media had showed images of a meeting earlier this week between Mr Khashoggi’s son and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who reportedly expressed his condolences. Mr Palladino also said Mr Pompeo attended a briefing on the former Washington Post writer’s death by CIA director Gina Haspel, following her return from Turkey.
The developments came after the kingdom cited evidence showing Mr Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, changing its story again to try to ease international outrage over the death of a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed.
The announcement contradicted an earlier Saudi assertion that rogue officials from the kingdom had killed Mr Khashoggi by mistake in a brawl inside their Istanbul consulate.
That assertion, in turn, backtracked from an initial statement that Saudi authorities knew nothing about what happened to the columnist for The Washington Post, who vanished after entering the consulate October 2. The shifting explanations indicate Saudi Arabia is scrambling for a way out of the crisis that has enveloped the world’s largest oil exporter and a major US ally in the Middle East.
However, a solution seems a long way off, partly because of deepening scepticism in Turkey and elsewhere that the brazen crime could have been carried out without the knowledge of Prince Mohammed, the heir apparent to King Salman.
At a conference in Riyadh, the crown prince said the killing was a “heinous crime that cannot be justified” and warned against any efforts to “manipulate” the crisis and drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are regional rivals but also diplomatic and business partners.
On Thursday, Prince Mohammed attended the first meeting of a committee aiming to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence services after the killing of Mr Khashoggi, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Mr Khashoggi’s death has derailed the powerful prince’s campaign to project a modern image of the ultra-conservative country, instead highlighting the brutal lengths to which some top officials in the government have gone to silence its critics.
Mr Khashoggi, who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States for nearly a year before his death, had written critically of Prince Mohammed’s crackdown on dissent.
A statement by Saudi attorney general Saud al-Mojeb attributed the latest findings of a joint Turkish-Saudi investigation to information from Turkish counterparts. The evidence of Turkish investigators “indicates that the suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention”, the Saudi statement said.
After the journalist disappeared, Saudi Arabia initially insisted Mr Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate after visiting the building. It later dropped that account for a new one, saying it had detained 18 people for what it described as an accidental killing during a “fistfight”.
What US president Donald Trump called “one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups” was revealed to the world through information leaks from Turkey, including references to purported audio recordings of the killing and security camera footage of Saudi officials who were involved as they moved around Istanbul.
Saudi officials said that the kingdom sent a team to Turkey which included a forensics expert and a member whose job was to dress in the 59-year-old writer’s clothes and pretend to be him – even though they were insisting as late as Tuesday that Mr Khashoggi’s death was an accident.