Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Saturday admitted that critic Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in Istanbul at the hands of Saudi officials. The admission comes after weeks of vehement denials by the Gulf kingdom in connection with the matter. The journalist had disappeared around two weeks back. Earlier on Friday, US President Donald Trump had warned the United States, which is Saudi Arabia’s biggest backer, could impose sanctions if it was proved the journalist was killed.

Saudi Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said Khashoggi died after “discussions” at the consulate devolved into an altercation, without disclosing any details on the whereabouts of his body.

“Preliminary investigations… revealed that the discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him… at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul led to a brawl and a fist fight with the citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, which led to his death, may his soul rest in peace,” the attorney general said in a statement.

The kingdom also sacked deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court media advisor Saud al-Qahtani, both top aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has faced mounting pressure over the Khashoggi affair.

White House ‘Saddnened’ Over Khashoggi’s Death

In its first reaction to Khashoggi’s confirmed death, the White House said it was “saddened” but made no mention of any possible action against its major ally. “We will continue to closely follow the international investigations into this tragic incident and advocate for justice that is timely, transparent and in accordance with all due process,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

‘Deeply Troubled’, Says UN Chief

The Spokeman for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Stephane Dujarric, released a statement extending the UN Chief, Antonio Guterres’, condolences to Khashoggi’s family and friends. “The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the confirmation of the death of Jamal Khashoggi. He extends his condolences to Mr Khashoggi’s family and friends,” the statement read.

Further, he stressed for the need for a thorough investigation into the scribe’s death. “The Secretary-General stresses the need for a prompt thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible.”

Saudi journalist Khashoggi, a critic of the Islamic petro-state’s powerful crown prince and a Washington Post contributor, was last seen on October 2 entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul.

His disappearance had been shrouded in mystery and triggered an international crisis, with Turkish officials accusing Saudi Arabia of a state-sponsored killing and dismembering his body. The public prosecutor said 18 people, all Saudi nationals, have been detained in connection to the probe.

The Saudi king also ordered the setting up of ministerial committee under the chairmanship of the crown prince, widely known as MBS, to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence agency and “define its powers accurately”.

The controversy has put the kingdom — for decades a key Western ally and bulwark against Iran in the Middle East — under unprecedented pressure to offer an explanation to take the heat off its rulers.

(Inputs from Agencies)