French police Tuesday arrested a Saudi man suspected of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
French law enforcement sources told Reuters that the suspect, Khalid Al-Otaibi, was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris as he was about to board a flight to Saudi Capital, Riyadh.
He is believed to be one of the 26 Saudis wanted by Turkey over the 2018 killing.
The Saudi embassy in Paris said that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity and that those involved in the murder had been convicted in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, “the Kingdom’s embassy expects his immediate release,” a statement said.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Instanbul in October 2018.
The Kingdom said the journalist was killed in a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to persuade him to return to the kingdom.
But, Turkish authorities said the agents acted on orders from the highest levels of the government in Riyadh. His body was dismembered and his remains have not been found.
On Tuesday, the UK Guardian reported that “the suspect is expected to appear before a judge in the next few hours, where he will be presented with the choice of being flown to Turkey or contesting the arrest warrant and being placed in police custody awaiting extradition.”
It quoted French police as saying they were still unsure if they had detained the right man. “It’s still possible that this is the right person, just as it’s still possible that it’s the wrong person,” a police spokesperson reportedly said. “At this point, we don’t know.”
But the BBC confirmed that the suspect is Mr Al-Otaibi, a former Saudi royal guard who was travelling under his own name. This marks the first time that any individual linked to Khashoggi’s murder is arrested outside Saudi Arabia.
In 2019, a Saudi court convicted eight unnamed people over the murder. Five of them were found guilty of directly participating in the killing and handed death sentences that were later commuted to 20-year prison terms, while three others were jailed for 7 to 10 years for covering up the crime.
The Saudi trial was dismissed by the then-UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who said that Mr Khashoggi was the “victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution for which the Saudi state was responsible.”
The arrest of Mr Al-Otaibi is coming just few days after French President Emmanuel Macron became the first major Western leader to meet the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman since Khashoggi’s murder.
“We talked about absolutely everything, without any taboos and we were obviously able to bring up the question of human rights,” Mr Macron reportedly said after the meeting on Saturday.
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