France releases Saudi man held over links to killing of Jamal Khashoggi

Officials said the suspect was released because it was a case of mistaken identity

David Harding
Wednesday 08 December 2021 18:20
<p>A candlelight vigil in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington remembers Khashoggi</p>

A candlelight vigil in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington remembers Khashoggi

The Saudi man arrested in Paris over suspected links to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been freed, after officials said it was a case of mistaken identity.

The release was confirmed by French prosecution officials.

Prosecutors said checks had shown that a warrant issued by Turkey, which had triggered the arrest when the man’s passport was scanned during border checks, did not apply to the man arrested at the airport.

“Extensive checks on the identity of this person showed that the warrant did not apply to him ... he was released,” the statement from the prosecutor’s office said.

On Tuesday, France arrested the man at an airport as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh.

He was named as Khaled Aedh al-Otaibi, the same name as a former member of the Saudi Royal Guard listed in American and British sanctions documents, as well as UN-commissioned report as having been involved in Khashoggi’s killing in Turkey.

French media reported that the mix-up was related to the fact that the detained man had an identical name to Al-Otaibi.

The man held overnight had made several European trips in past months and entered France in November without issue, a senior French police official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Following the arrest, the Saudi embassy in Paris said the man arrested “had nothing to do with the case in question”.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in October 2018 and was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Saudi authorities, who last year held a trial for the alleged killers that was widely dismissed as a sham, described the murder as a rogue operation initiated by confidantes and close advisers of Prince Mohammed.

A 2019 UN investigation report said Al-Otaibi was a member of a 15-man Saudi team involved in killing Khashoggi.

The arrest had come at a sensitive time for the countries involved.

President Emmanuel Macron had days earlier become the first major western leader to hold face-to-face talks with Prince Mohammed in the kingdom, a major buyer of French arms, since Khashoggi’s murder.

Macron considers Saudi Arabia vital to help forge a region-wide peace deal with Iran, as well as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants from the Middle East to west Africa, and a rampart against the Muslim Brotherhood.

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