Jamal Khashoggi

AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File

Saudi Officials Confirm Jamal Khashoggi Is Dead

October 19, 2018 - 6:29 pm

RIYADH (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- Officials in Saudi Arabia confirmed for the first time Friday that Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi is dead.

The Saudi public prosecutor said 18 people have been arrested. The investigation is ongoing.

The Saudi statement indicated that Khashoggi died in a fist fight. In the past week, reports that cited Turkish officials painted a more gruesome picture: Reports said that one of Khashoggi's interrogators was an autopsy specialist with a bone saw, and that Khashoggi was ultimately dismembered. These Turkish sources said an audio recording existed, though none has been made public or provided to U.S. authorities.

Saudi state media also issued an apology: "The kingdom expresses its deep regret," said a statement in state media. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has dismissed his closest adviser Saud al-Qahtani, the Saudi press agency said. "You don't get much closer" to bin Salman, a source told CBS News' Kylie Atwood.

Intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri is also out, the Saudi press agency said. CBS News reported earlier Friday that Saudi officials were considering blaming al-Assiri. 

Khashoggi, who was U.S.-based and wrote for The Washington Post, disappeared on Oct. 2 after going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.  Turkish officials have said, anonymously, that Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate, by a 15-man team.

It's unclear what the U.S. response will be. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Friday that the Saudi "investigation into the fate of Jamal Khashoggi is progressing and that it has taken action against the suspects it has identified thus far." 

"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," the statement said. "We are saddened to hear confirmation of Mr. Khashoggi's death, and we offer our deepest condolences to his family, fiancée, and friends."

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said consequences would be severe if it turned out the Saudi government was behind Khashoggi’s death. But he was cautious on Friday.

“I will in this case make certain recommendations. We have $450 billion worth of things ordered from a very rich country, Saudi Arabia,” Trump said.

Trump said Friday that it was still "too early" to determine potential consequences but that he expects to know more by Monday.

He says: "We're going to find out who knew what when and where and we'll figure it out."

Trump acknowledged Thursday that it "certainly looks" like Khashoggi is dead and threatened "very severe" consequences if the Saudis are found to have killed him.

The journalist's disappearance has sparked global outrage and threatened the U.S.-Saudi relationship. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)