Saudi Arabia on Saturday admitted that critic Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in Istanbul, more than two weeks after his disappearance tipped the kingdom into one of its worst international crises.
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.
The admission that Khashoggi died at the hands of Saudi officials after weeks of vehement denials by the Gulf kingdom comes after President Donald Trump said that 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.
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.
UN chief Antonio Gutterres said he was "deeply troubled" adding there needed to be "full accountability for those responsible."