Saudi Arabia claims arrest of Jamal Khashoggi

French police on Tuesday December 7, arrested a man suspected of involvement in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but Saudi officials have claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.

 

The man was detained by border police on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Turkey as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, judicial and airport sources told the AFP news agency, asking not to be named.

 

Investigators were seeking to confirm that the man carrying a passport in the name of Khalid Alotaibi was indeed the suspect by the same name sought by Turkey and sanctioned by the U.S. over the gruesome killing of Khashoggi.

 

The Saudi Embassy in Paris issued a statement late Tuesday saying the man arrested “has nothing to do with the case in question” and demanded his immediate release.

 

A security source in Saudi Arabia added that “Khaled Alotaibi” was a very common name in the kingdom, and that the Alotaibi the French thought they were holding was actually serving time in prison in Saudi Arabia along with “all the defendants in the case.”

 

The man was detained by border police on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Turkey as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, judicial and airport sources said, asking not to be named.

 

A man named Khalid Alotaibi is one of 26 Saudis charged in absentia by Turkey over the killing in a trial that got underway in October 2020. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment.

 

Two of the 26 being tried in absentia in Turkey are former aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

 

Alotaibi is also one of 17 people that the U.S. Treasury designated for sanctions in 2018 over their role in the murder.

 

A source close to the case said that the Interpol Red Notice issued at Turkey’s request came up as the traveler was passing through passport control.

 

Checks were still underway on Tuesday evening to ensure his identity is correct and that the arrest warrant applies to him, another source close to the case added, noting that his detention can last up to 48 hours.

 

If confirmed as the suspected assassination team member, he will appear before French prosecutors.

 

He would have the right to challenge extradition to Turkey. If he does, the French judiciary must decide whether to keep him in detention pending a formal Turkish extradition request, or to free him on condition that he does not leave France.

 

In September 2020, a Saudi court overturned five death sentences issued after a closed-door trial in Saudi Arabia, sentencing the accused to 20 years in prison instead.

 

Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi who lived in self-exile in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to file paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee.

 

According to U.S. and Turkish officials, awaiting Saudi hit squad strangled him and dismembered his body, which has never been retrieved.

 

Tuesday’s arrest comes only days after French President Emmanuel Macron defended his decision to include Saudi Arabia in a tour of Gulf states, saying the visit did not mean that he had “forgotten” about the Khashoggi case.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government. But Erdogan has never directly blamed Prince Mohammed and there have in recent months been signs of the thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

 

On the third anniversary of the killing, Khashoggi’s widow Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate while the murder took place, accused the U.S. of failing to hold Saudi Arabia accountable.