France releases Saudi national detained for alleged link to Khashoggi | News from Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi officials previously said the detention of a Saudi at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was a case of mistaken identity.

The Saudi man arrested at a Paris airport on Tuesday for alleged links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been released after authorities concluded he was mistaken in identity, prosecutors said on Wednesday. from Paris.

French law enforcement sources on Tuesday named the man as 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 implicated in the murder of Khashoggi in Turkey.

The Saudi Embassy in Paris said on 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 actually serving a prison sentence in Saudi Arabia with “all the defendants in the case”. .

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

“Extensive verification of the identity of this person has shown that the warrant does not apply to him…he has been released,” the statement from the prosecutor’s office said.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist 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 officials think his body was dismembered and removed. His remains have not been found.

News of the arrest – thought to be the man Turkey is looking for – sparked a wave of backlash, with rights groups and Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, expressing 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 to marry Cengiz.

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

Macron sees Saudi Arabia as vital in helping to 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 charged in absentia by Turkey with the murder in a trial that opened in October 2020. If found guilty, he could face a life sentence. lifetime sentence.

Two of the 26 people tried in absentia in Turkey are former collaborators of MBS. No Saudi official has ever faced justice in person in Turkey for this murder.

Alotaibi is also one of 17 people the US Treasury named 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 defendant to 20 years in prison instead.

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

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

The horrific murder sparked international outrage which continues to be felt, with Western intelligence agencies accusing MBS of enabling 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 group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called the arrest “great news” and said it filed a complaint against Alotaibi for murder, torture and enforced disappearance in October 2019.

Harry D. Gonzalez