The son of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has left Saudi Arabia after the kingdom revoked a travel ban, allowing him to come to the United States — the latest in the saga of the Saudi writer and dissident whose macabre killing earlier this month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul shocked the world.
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Washington welcomes the decision to have Salah Khashoggi and his family leave Saudi Arabia. His U.S. destination was not immediately known but his late father lived in the Washington area.
Palladino said Thursday that U.S. 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,” Palladino said. Saudi media had showed Khashoggi’s son meeting Tuesday with the crown prince, who reportedly expressed his condolences.
Palladino also said Pompeo attended a briefing on the former Washington Post writer’s death by CIA Director Gina Haspel, following her return from Turkey. The White House did not release any details of their meeting.
The developments came after the kingdom on Thursday cited evidence showing Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, changing its story again to try to ease international outrage over the slaying of a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The announcement contradicted an earlier Saudi assertion that rogue officials from the kingdom had killed 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 Oct. 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 U.S. ally in the Middle East. But a solution seems a long way off, partly because of deepening skepticism in Turkey and elsewhere that the brazen crime could have been carried out without the knowledge of Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s heir apparent.
At a conference in Riyadh on Wednesday, 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 Khashoggi, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Khashoggi’s death has derailed the powerful prince’s campaign to project a modern image of the ultraconservative country, instead highlighting the brutal lengths to which some top officials in the government have gone to silence its critics. 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 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 President Donald Trump called “one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups” was revealed to the world by Turkish leaks of information, including references to purported audio recordings of the killing, and security camera footage of the Saudi officials who were involved as they moved around Istanbul.
Saudi officials told The Associated Press this week that the kingdom sent a team to Turkey that 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 — though they were insisting as late as Tuesday that his death was an accident.
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA and AYA BATRAWY , Associated Press
Batrawy reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.