After Saudi Arabia insisted the suspect was a victim of mistaken identity, French authorities sought to confirm the identity of a man arrested on suspicion of playing a key role in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to police and judicial sources, the man, who had a passport in the name of Khaled Alotaibi, was apprehended by French border police at Paris’s main airport on Tuesday as he prepared to board a flight to Riyadh.
Khaled Alotaibi is one of the 26 people facing an indictment in Turkey for his role in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The US Treasury has also sanctioned him for his role in the murder.
According to a source close to the case who asked not to be identified, the man was detained after an Interpol Red Notice issued at Turkey’s request was activated as he passed through passport control.
However, late Tuesday, the Saudi embassy in Paris issued a statement claiming that the man detained “has nothing to do with the case in question” and demanding his immediate release.
According to a security source in Saudi Arabia, the name “Khaled Alotaibi” is very common in the kingdom, and the Alotaibi the French thought they had was actually serving time in prison in Saudi Arabia alongside “all the defendants in the case.”
Twenty-six Saudis are on trial in Istanbul in their absence for the killing, which began in October 2020. In Turkey, no Saudi official has ever faced justice for the killing.
Alotaibi is also one of 17 people sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2018 for their role in the murder.
The assassination sparked international outrage, with Western intelligence agencies accusing the kingdom’s de-facto ruler Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering the assassination.
Identity being confirmed
According to a source familiar with the case, the man could be held for up to 48 hours while his identity is verified.
He will appear before French prosecutors if he is confirmed as a member of the assassination team, ahead of any possible extradition procedure if Turkey requests it.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday’s arrest was “excellent news” and that it had filed a legal complaint against Alotaibi with Paris prosecutors in October 2019 for murder, torture, and enforced disappearance.
RSF said it had kept the complaint “completely confidential” in order to reduce the chances of him being apprehended during any future visit to France. The prosecutor’s office eventually closed the case because there was no evidence of his presence in France, but RSF said it would now reopen it.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, claims that the legal investigation into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is complete and that no further arrests are necessary.
“All those who took part in the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi have received verdicts from the Saudi judiciary, and they are all 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, instead imposing a sentence of 20 years in prison on the defendants.
On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist living in exile in the United States and writing for The Washington Post, went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to file paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee.
According to US and Turkish officials, he was strangled and dismembered by a waiting Saudi hit squad, whose body was never found.
The arrest comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron defended his decision to include Saudi Arabia in a Gulf tour, claiming that the trip did not mean he had “forgotten” about the Khashoggi case.
The order to kill Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan, on the other hand, has never directly blamed Prince Mohammed, and there have been signs of a thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia in recent months.
Importantly, there have been signs of a thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s top ally, the United Arab Emirates, following years of tensions following the failed coup attempt in 2016, with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed visiting Turkey last month.
Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate during the murder, accused the US of failing to hold Saudi Arabia accountable on the third anniversary of Khashoggi’s death.
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