The Trump administration had built strong ties with Crown Prince Mohammed, seeing him as a strong partner in its ambitions to counter Iran, forge a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and reconfigure the Middle East. Although Mr. Trump said he would consider sanctions, he said he “would prefer we don’t use as retribution” the cancellation of $110 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
For the first time on Saturday, a Saudi official familiar with the government’s handling of the situation put forward the kingdom’s narrative of the events that led to Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing, the official said that the kingdom had a general order to get dissidents living abroad to return to the kingdom. When the consulate in Istanbul reported that Mr. Khashoggi would be coming in on Oct. 2 to pick up a document needed for his upcoming marriage, General Asiri dispatched a 15-man team to confront him.
The team included Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, a security officer identified by The New York Times this week as a frequent member of the crown prince’s security detail during foreign trips, the official said. Mr. Mutrib had been chosen because he had worked with Mr. Khashoggi a decade ago in the Saudi Embassy in London and knew him personally.
But the order to return Mr. Khashoggi to the kingdom was misinterpreted as it made its way down the chain of command, the official said, and a confrontation ensued as soon as Mr. Khashoggi saw the men. He tried to flee, the men stopped him, punches were thrown, Mr. Khashoggi screamed and one of the men put him in a chokehold, strangling him to death, the official said.
“The interaction in the room didn’t last very long at all,” the official said.
The team then gave the body to a local collaborator to dispose of, meaning that they do not know where it ended up, and returned to the kingdom, the official said.
All 15 members of the team had been identified by name by the Turks, and Turkish newspapers had published their photographs. The New York Times established that most of them were employed by the Saudi military or security services and that at least four had traveled with the crown prince as part of his security detail.