France releases Saudi national detained for alleged connection to Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia Says France Arrested Wrong Man For Khashoggi Murder

The Saudi man arrested at a Paris airport on Tuesday for alleged links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was released after authorities concluded it was a mistaken identity, prosecutors said on Wednesday from Paris.
French law enforcement sources on Tuesday named the man Khalid Alotaibi, the same name as a former member of the Saudi Royal Guard listed in US and UK sanctions documents and a report commissioned by the United Nations as having been involved in the murder of Khashoggi in Turkey.

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

A security source in Saudi Arabia added that “Khaled Alotaibi” was a very common name in the kingdom, and that the person the French believed to be holding was in fact serving a prison sentence in Saudi Arabia with “all defendants in the country”. case ”.

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

“Thorough 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.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter and critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 2018. Turkish authorities believe his body was dismembered and removed. His remains have not been found.

News of the arrest – believed to be the man Turkey wanted – had sparked backlash, with rights groups and Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, voicing their relief that such a high-profile suspect is on trial.

A 2019 UN investigative report said Alotaibi was a member of a 15-man Saudi team involved in Khashoggi’s murder after he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document allowing him to marry Cengiz.

The arrest came at a sensitive time, just days after French President Emmanuel Macron had face-to-face talks in Saudi Arabia with Prince Mohammed, becoming the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom since the murder of Khashoggi.

Macron sees Saudi Arabia vital in helping forge a regional peace deal with Iran, as well as an ally in the fight against extremist groups from the Middle East to West Africa.

A man named Khalid Alotaibi is one of 26 Saudis indicted in absentia by Turkey for the murder in a trial that began in October 2020. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.

Two of the 26 people tried in absentia in Turkey are former MBS employees. No Saudi official has ever been brought to justice in Turkey for this murder.

Alotaibi is also one of 17 people the US Treasury nominated for sanctions in 2018 for their role in the murder.

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

The trial was criticized by a UN official and human rights activists who said the masterminds for the murder remained free.

According to US and Turkish officials, a standby Saudi squad strangled Khashoggi and dismembered his body.

The gruesome murder sparked international outrage that continues to reverberate, with Western intelligence agencies accusing MBS of authorizing the murder.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the order to assassinate Khashoggi came “from the highest levels” of the Saudi government, but he never directly blamed MBS.

Media rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called the arrest “excellent news” and said it had filed a complaint against Alotaibi for murder, torture and enforced disappearance in October 2019.


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