Man arrested in Paris over Jamal Khashoggi killing is released


A Saudi man arrested at a French airport on suspicion of involvement in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been released, after the Paris prosecutor concluded it was a case of mistaken identity.

“Extensive checks on the identity of this person have allowed us to establish that the warrant did not apply to him,” read a statement from the prosecutor general, Rémy Heitz. “He has been released.”

The man, who had been named as Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, was taken into custody on Tuesday at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport as he was about to board a plane to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Border police had stopped him on suspicion of being a former member of the Saudi royal guard accused of being involved in the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist – and a critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who was killed at the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

When the man’s passport was scanned during border procedures, it flagged a warrant issued by Turkey, which triggered the arrest.

But at lunchtime on Wednesday, after more than 24 hours of extensive identity checks, Paris prosecutors said the man’s identity did not match the warrant and he was released. It is believed that he shared the same name as the wanted man.

The Saudi embassy in Paris had said late on Tuesday that the arrested person “has nothing to do with the case in question”.

The arrest made headlines around the world as it would have marked the first time that any individual accused by international experts of participating in the grisly state-sponsored killing of the Washington Post columnist had been arrested outside Saudi Arabia.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Dawn, a pro-democracy advocacy group founded by Khashoggi, said the fact that the police had acted on the warrant – despite the case of mistaken identity – was an encouraging sign that the global community was taking the case seriously.

“It’s heartening to know that Europe has effectively reaffirmed that the murderers of Khashoggi – [Prince Mohammed] included – will face prosecution and criminal complaint if they set foot in their countries,” she said.

“It was hard to understand why [Prince Mohammed] might have dared to send a sanctioned official to France, but now he certainly knows he can’t, and his $500m villa outside Paris remains covered in cobwebs.”

Investigations have named a man called Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi as one of the “commando” group at the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was killed on 2 October 2018. He was among 17 individuals sanctioned by the US for their suspected role in the journalist’s death. He has also served as a personal security official for Prince Mohammed.

He was placed on the Interpol red list after an arrest warrant was issued by Turkey, where last year 20 Saudi officials were put on trial in absentia over the killing.

An investigation into the murder by Agnès Callamard, the then UN special rapporteur of extrajudicial killings, has described Otaibi as a close associate and personal security officer for Prince Mohammed, who has been accused by US intelligence agencies of approving the Khashoggi murder. In her report, Callamard said Otaibi accompanied the prince on his 2017 trip to the US.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist with close ties to the royal court, was a subtle but influential critic of the prince at a time in 2018 when Riyadh was seeking to portray the crown prince as a reformer.

The Washington DC Council unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would designate a portion of the street that is directly in front of the Saudi US embassy as “Jamal Khashoggi Way”.

Whitson said the new designation would serve “as a daily reminder for the Saudi Embassy and the Saudi government that Jamal Khashoggi and his legacy are just as powerful in death as in life”.

The move was also supported by the National Press Club, which said that changing the name of the street would be a reminder “that we want justice for Jamal”.



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