Saudi Arabia has said Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul after a fight broke out.
Mr Khashoggi, 59, went missing on 2 October during a visit to get papers for his marriage and intense pressure had been growing on Saudi Arabia to explain his disappearance.
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor was quoted on state television as saying that a fight broke out between Mr Khashoggi and people who met him in the consulate, leading to his death.
It contradicts the country’s initial claim that the journalist – who was critical of the kingdom’s rulers – had left the consulate alive.
A Saudi source claimed that “discussions” between Mr Khashoggi and others at the consulate “did not go as required and developed in a negative way, leading to a fight and a quarrel”.
They added that “the brawl aggravated to lead to his death and their attempt to conceal and cover what happened”.
Eighteen Saudis are said to have been arrested so far in connection with the journalist’s death and the state news agency said the kingdom “expresses its deep regret” over Mr Khashoggi’s death.
Saudi Arabia also said one of its top intelligence officials, Ahmed El Assiri, had been sacked, as well as royal court adviser Saud Al Qahtani.
Deputy intelligence chief Ahmed El Assiri has been sacked, says Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi rulers were expected to say that General Asiri had received orders from Prince Mohammed bin Salman to capture Mr Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood or overstepped them, according to two of the people familiar with Saudi plans who were quoted in the New York Times.
US President Donald Trump said he found the Saudi explanation “credible” and a White House statement described the murder as a “tragic incident”.
There has been no word about what was done with Mr Khashoggi’s body.
Donald Trump has been criticised for being soft on the Saudi leadership
Concerns grew for the journalist’s safety after Turkish sources said he had been killed in a premeditated murder after a 15-man “hit squad” entered the country.
An official, speaking anonymously to Reuters news
agency, said at the time: “We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate.”
A senior police source told online news website Middle East Eye the journalist had been “brutally murdered, killed and cut into pieces”.
“Everything was videotaped to prove the mission had been accomplished and the tape was taken out of the country,” the source said.
Mr Khashoggi’s fiancee alerted authorities after he failed to come out of the consulate
Pro-government newspapers in Turkey have published details – said to have come from those close to the case – that claim Mr Khashoggi was tortured, having his fingers cut off, before his body was dismembered on an office table by a forensic doctor.
Turkish media say authorities have audio of the alleged murder.
Major businesses and some politicians, including the UK’s trade secretary, have pulled out of a major investment summit in Saudi capital Riyadh in recent days.
Mr Khashoggi went missing while visiting the consulate to get papers so he could marry
Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford said from Istanbul that confirmation of Mr Khashoggi’s death was “not too much of a surprise from our sources in Turkey”.
“I think the Saudi just thought there was nowhere else to go – they had to admit it.
“Now they’ve been backed into a corner where they’ve had to admit something very badly went wrong.”
Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been carrying out investigations – with forensic experts examining the consulate and the consul’s house nearby. On Friday, the search moved to a forest outside Istanbul.
Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia for Washington in September 2017, months after Prince Mohammed was appointed heir to the throne.
He had been criticised by Saudi authorities for being too progressive and he had described Prince Mohammed as a “brash and abrasive young innovator” – and even said he was “acting like Putin