Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi Says French Arrested Wrong Man
Saudi Arabia has accused France of arresting the wrong man after police said they detained a former royal guard suspected of being part of the ‘hit squad’ that killed Jamal Khashoggi.
The suspect was detained on Tuesday at the main Paris airport while carrying a passport identifying as Khalid Al-Otaibi, one of 26 men tried in absentia in Turkey for the murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 .
But the Saudi embassy in France has since released a statement alleging that agents arrested the wrong man and demanded his immediate release.
Al-Otaibi is a common Saudi name, a security source in the country claimed, and the man France believes arrested may not have been in Paris because he is currently in prison in Saudi Arabia along with “all the suspects in the matter’ .
Khalid Al-Otaibi (circled at Istanbul airport just before the murder along with other suspects) has been arrested by French police
A Saudi passport (pictured) held by a man of the same name would have been used three times to enter the US on trips coinciding with Saudi royals
French authorities are now in the process of confirming the man’s identity, saying he was arrested after an Interpol red message issued by Turkey was activated as he went through passport control before boarding a flight to Riyadh.
Twenty-six Saudis are now on trial in absentia in Istanbul for the murder in a trial that began in October 2020.
Turkey started trials against 26 Saudis accused of involvement in the murder last October, but none of them have been personally taken to court.
Alotaibi is also one of 17 people charged by the US Treasury Department on sanctions for the murder in 2018.
Khashoggi, a former member of the Saudi royal family turned dissident, was an American citizen and was working for the Washington Post as a columnist when he was murdered.
The assassination sparked international outrage that continues to reverberate, with Western intelligence agencies accusing the de facto ruler of the kingdom, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of condoning the assassination.
A source close to the case said the man could be detained for up to 48 hours while his identity continues to be verified.
If confirmed as the suspected member of the assassination team, he will appear before French prosecutors ahead of any extradition proceedings should Turkey make such a request.
One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured) has been arrested by French police
Khashoggi is seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the day of his assassination
Media rights agency Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called Tuesday’s arrest “excellent news” and said it filed a legal complaint with Paris prosecutors in October 2019 against Alotaibi for murder, torture and enforced disappearance.
RSF said it had maintained “complete confidentiality” about the complaint in order to increase the chances of his arrest during any visit to France. The case was eventually closed by the prosecutor’s office for lack of any indication of his presence in France, but RSF said it would now resume the case.
However, Saudi Arabia insists the legal process it has pursued into Khashoggi’s murder has been completed and no further arrests are needed.
“The Saudi judiciary has handed down sentences against all those who took part in the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi, all of whom are currently serving their sentences,” the Paris embassy said.
In September 2020, a Saudi court overturned five death sentences handed down after a closed-door trial in Saudi Arabia and instead sentenced the accused to 20 years in prison.
Khashoggi – a prominent Saudi living in exile in the United States and writing for The Washington Post – entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 to file paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée.
According to US and Turkish officials, a waiting Saudi hit squad strangled him and dismembered his body, which has never been recovered.
The journalist had once been close to the Saudi royal family, but before his death had written critical pieces in the Washington Post about Mohammed bin Salman (pictured) and his policies
Tuesday’s arrest comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron defended his decision to include Saudi Arabia on a tour of the Gulf countries, saying the visit did not mean he had “forgotten” the Khashoggi case.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to assassinate Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government.
But Erdogan has never directly blamed Prince Mohammed and there have been signs of a thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia in recent months.
Crucially, after many years of tensions in the wake of the failed coup of 2016, there are also signs of a thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s main ally, the United Arab Emirates, with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed visited Turkey last month .
On the third anniversary of the murder, Khashoggi’s widow Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside the consulate while the murder took place, accused the US of not holding Saudi Arabia responsible.