A Saudi man arrested at a French airport on suspicion of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was released after the Paris prosecutor concluded that it was a case of mistaken identity.
“The exhaustive checks on the identity of this person have allowed us to establish that the arrest warrant did not apply to him,” read a statement from the attorney general, Rémy Heitz. “He has been released.”
The man, who had been named Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, was detained Tuesday at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport as he was about to board a plane to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The border police had detained him on suspicion of being a former member of the Saudi royal guard accused of being involved in the murder of Khashoggi, a journalist for the Washington Post and a critic of the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was assassinated at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
When the man’s passport was scanned during border procedures, a warrant issued by Turkey was pointed out, prompting the arrest.
But at lunchtime 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 Tuesday night that the person arrested “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 gruesome murder of the state-sponsored Washington Post columnist has been arrested outside of Saudi Arabia.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Dawn, a pro-democracy advocacy group founded by Khashoggi, said that the fact that the police had acted in accordance with the court order, despite the case of mistaken identity, was a sign encouraging that the world community was making the decision. case seriously.
“It is encouraging to know that Europe has effectively reaffirmed that the Khashoggi killers – [Prince Mohammed] Including, they will face prosecution and criminal charges if they set foot in their countries, ”he said.
“It was hard to understand why [Prince Mohammed] He could have dared to send an authorized official to France, but now he certainly knows he can’t, and his $ 500 million villa outside Paris is still covered in cobwebs. “
Investigations have named a man named Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi as a member of the “commando” group at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018. He was one of 17 people sanctioned by the United States. for his alleged participation in the death of the journalist. He has also served as Prince Mohammed’s personal security officer.
He was included on Interpol’s red list after Turkey issued an arrest warrant, where last year 20 Saudi officials were tried in absentia for the murder.
An investigation into the murder of Agnès Callamard, the then UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, has described Otaibi as a close associate and personal security officer of Prince Mohammed, who has been accused by US intelligence agencies of approving the Khashoggi’s murder. In his report, Callamard said that Otaibi accompanied the prince on his 2017 trip to the United States.
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 approved a bill Tuesday that would designate a portion of the street directly in front of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia as the “Jamal Khashoggi Way.” Whitson said the new designation would serve “as a daily reminder to the Saudi Embassy and the Saudi Arabian government that Jamal Khashoggi and his legacy are as powerful in death as they are in life.”
The move was also supported by the National Press Club, which said changing the street’s name would be a reminder “that we want justice for Jamal.”