DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat said Saturday that the global outcry and media focus on the killing of a Saudi journalist earlier this month has become “hysterical” as he urged the public to wait for the results of an investigation before ascribing blame to the kingdom’s top leadership.
Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
“This issue has become fairly hysterical,” Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said. “I think people have assigned blame to Saudi Arabia with such certainty before the investigation is complete.”
Some of those implicated in Khashoggi’s killing are close to Prince Mohammed, who is the kingdom’s heir apparent. His condemnation of the killing as “heinous” and “painful” has so far failed to ease suspicions that such a high-level operation could have been carried out without his knowledge.
Al-Jubeir addressed the mounting skepticism around the crown prince’s alleged involvement. He was speaking in response to questions from Western journalists at an annual conference of international officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, in Bahrain.
“We have made clear that we are going to have a full and transparent investigation, the results of which will be released. We have made it very clear that those responsible will be held responsible,” he said, adding that the kingdom has also put in place mechanisms to ensure this does not happen again.
“We’re trying to uncover what happened. We know that a mistake was committed. We know that people exceeded their authority and we know that we’re investigating them,” he said.
But he cautioned that “investigations take time.”
“Unfortunately, there has been this hysteria in the media about Saudi Arabia’s guilt before the investigation is completed,” he said.
Turkey alleges a 15-member hit squad was sent to Istanbul to kill the journalist, a onetime Saudi insider who became an outspoken critic of Prince Mohammed in columns for The Washington Post. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the three others in the group of 18 who have been detained in Saudi Arabia were consulate employees.
Saudi Arabia has said five officials, including two who worked directly under the crown prince, have been relieved of their posts. Al-Jubeir on Saturday said six in total were dismissed. King Salman has assigned his son, the crown prince, to oversee the restructuring of the kingdom’s intelligence bodies in the aftermath of the killing.
The Turkish president said Saturday that he’s discussed the journalist’s killing with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany during separate meetings in Istanbul ahead of a summit on the Syrian war.
Turkey is requesting that Saudi Arabia hand over the suspects in the killing, which the kingdom has described as a rogue operation by officials who may have exceeded their orders or authority.
Al-Jubeir appeared to rejected that notion.
“The individuals are Saudi nationals, they’re detained in Saudi Arabia, the investigation is in Saudi Arabia and they will be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia,” he said at the Bahrain summit.
Erdogan has said that Turkey would reveal more evidence about the killing but was not in any rush to do so, indicating that Turkish authorities will methodically increase pressure on Saudi Arabia even as the kingdom floats conflicting statements in a vain and often clumsy attempt to end the quandary.
After three weeks of shifting Saudi accounts around the incident, the kingdom this week acknowledged that the killing was “premeditated,” citing evidence from investigating Turkish officials. Saudi Arabia originally said Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate Oct. 2, before offering various other narratives that President Donald Trump called “one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.”
CIA director Gina Haspel, who was in Turkey earlier this week to review evidence, briefed Trump in Washington on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia’s chief prosecutor will arrive in Turkey on Sunday as part of the investigation and will meet with Turkish counterparts, according to Erdogan.