PARIS (AP) – A suspect in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested in France on Tuesday, according to a French judicial official.
The official said the suspect was being held on the basis of a Turkish arrest warrant. He asked not to be appointed in accordance with the customary uses of French justice.
French radio RTL said Saudi national Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi was arrested at Roissy airport near Paris as he tried to board a flight to Riyadh.
Al-Otaibi was one of more than a dozen Saudi officials sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2018 for the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
He was also mentioned in the declassified US intelligence report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “approved” the operation that killed Khashoggi. The report used an alternate English transliteration of his surname.
The Saudi embassy in Paris said the arrested man “had nothing to do with the case in question,” and said the embassy expects his immediate release. He noted that Saudi Arabia had already held a trial for the murder, although it was held behind closed doors and the verdicts were criticized by human rights groups and others for failing to account for or convict anyone responsible for the organization, ordering or supervision of the operation that killed Khashoggi. .
The French authorities checked the identity of the suspect on Tuesday evening.
The director of the media monitoring body Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Christophe Deloire, welcomed the news.
“Sometimes governments turn a blind eye to people being sued in another country. I am pleased to note that there has been an arrest and that the police have not turned a blind eye this time, ”he told The Associated Press.
Al-Otaibi “is someone we have followed for a long time,” said Deloire. RSF lobbied several governments to seek justice for Khashoggi’s murder and filed a lawsuit in Germany for crimes against humanity in the case.
There was no immediate comment from Turkey on the arrest.
French media report that the suspect will be informed of the arrest warrant by a prosecutor on Wednesday. He can accept or refuse to be transferred to Turkey. If he refuses, a judge will decide whether he remains in detention pending the examination of the case and a possible extradition procedure, which could take months.
The arrest comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues his first regional Gulf tour since the murder. He traveled from Oman to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
The prince met French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday in Saudi Arabia. Macron said they had held talks on human rights issues, among other things.
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, said in a statement that the arrest of the suspect, if confirmed, is “a very important first step for justice for Jamal … Justice must be allowed to run its course … More Importantly, those who executed the plan must not be used to protect those who, far above, gave the order to brutally kill Jamal, including the Crown Prince himself. They must also be arrested and prosecuted.
“If all of this is true, this is the first step that should continue until justice is served and the person who ordered the murder is also brought to justice,” Abdullah Alaoudh said, director of Gulf issues at DAWN, a US-based organization that Khashoggi envisioned before his assassination to support democracy and the rule of law in the Arab world. Alaoudh’s own father, famous Islamic scholar Salman Aloudah, has been among those held in the kingdom since 2017 under the leadership of the crown prince. He was arrested shortly after a tweet seen as not supporting the Saudi embargo against neighboring Qatar at the time – a feud that has since ended.
The arrest comes as the crown prince works to shake off the stain on his reputation internationally and bring back big Western investors and celebrities.
Human rights activists have urged celebrities and sports stars to boycott events in Saudi Arabia, arguing that they serve to distract from the country’s crackdown on criticism and that such events only happen. with the approval of the Crown Prince. This week alone, the kingdom staged its very first Formula 1 race with pop star Justin Bieber despite a call from Khashoggi’s fiancee not to take part in the protest. Meanwhile, stars like Hillary Swank and Catherine Deneuve were pictured on the red carpet on Monday for the kingdom’s first Red Sea International Film Festival in Jiddah.
Last year, Turkey began trying 26 Saudi nationals in absentia for the murder of Khashoggi after Saudi Arabia refused to extradite them and after Turkish authorities dismissed a lawsuit against some of the suspects who turned away. held behind closed doors in Riyadh.
However, at the last hearing in November, the Istanbul court asked the justice ministry to contact the Saudi authorities to determine if they had been convicted there in order to avoid them being tried for the same offense. .
The arrest in Paris comes as Turkey tries to improve its fractured relations with the Kingdom and other Arab nations at a time when its economy is faltering.
Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018, after entering the consulate to obtain documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee, who was waiting outside. Turkish officials allege that Khashoggi, who wrote reviews of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia for the Washington Post, was killed by a team of Saudi agents and then dismembered with a bone saw.
The Saudi government admitted to the murder under intense international pressure.
Saudi legal proceedings, which were open to selected Western diplomats, were not open to independent media to observe.
Khashoggi’s family later announced that they had forgiven their killers.
AP journalists Angela Charlton in Paris, Jon Gambrell and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Robert Badendieck, Istanbul, Turkey and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to the story.