PARIS – French authorities detained on Tuesday a Saudi man that they believed was wanted in connection with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was dismembered and killed in Istanbul three years ago, a French police source said.
French authorities detained Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi on an outstanding Turkish arrest warrant, the source said, as Otaibi prepared to travel to Saudi Arabia from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Hours later, the French police acknowledged that they were not sure 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 spokesman said. “At this point, we don’t know.”
He said the suspect said the suspect was still in detention and could legally be held until Thursday morning.
A man identified as Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi was one of 17 Saudis sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in 2018 for playing a role in the murder. U.S. records showed that a Saudi passport held by a man with the same name as Otaibi was used to enter the United States for trips that overlapped with three visits by members of the royal family. The Post in 2018 found his contact identified with a symbol of the Royal Guard in the Arabic caller-ID app MenoM3ay.
A Saudi official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said that “media reports suggesting that a person who was implicated in the crime against Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi has been arrested in France are false. This is a case of mistaken identity. Those convicted of the crime are currently serving their sentences in Saudi Arabia.”
Otaibi was allegedly part of a 15-member team sent to kill Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. Khashoggi had become a target after criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and had entered the consulate to obtain legal paperwork, believing he was safe in Turkey.
The arrest is the first outside of Saudi Arabia, and comes two days after French President Emmanuel Macron met with Mohammed, the first major Western leader to visit the country and meet with the prince since Khashoggi’s killing.
A Saudi court in 2019 sentenced five people to death and three to jail over the murder of the journalist, but the death sentences were later overturned after some of Khashoggi’s family members forgave his killers, enabling the sentences to be set aside according to Saudi law.
A U.N. investigator at the time accused the court proceedings of making a “mockery” of justice for allowing the masterminds behind the operation to go unpunished.
Turkey, which first publicized the news of Khashoggi’s murder and called for senior Saudi leaders to be held to account, began a trial last year for 20 people alleged to have played a role in the journalist’s killing. All of the suspects were believed to be in Saudi Arabia and were being tried in absentia. The last hearing in the case was held earlier this month.
But hopes that the trial would reveal new information about what happened to Khashoggi or result in convictions – which could embarrass the Saudi monarchy – have dimmed as Turkey has tried to mend its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Turkey has halted its denunciations of the kingdom for covering up the murder as well as the role of senior officials.
Two planes that Turkish investigators believed transported the 15 men from Saudi Arabia landed in Istanbul early on Oct. 2. Khashoggi entered the consulate in Istanbul that day and never left. His fiancee, Turkish citizen Hatice Cengiz, waited for him outside the consulate for hours. She then alerted authorities to his disappearance.
Cengiz has been pushing for justice since. She welcomed the news of the arrest. “France should try him for his crime, or extradite him to a country able and willing to genuinely investigate and prosecute him as well as the person who gave the order to murder Jamal,” she said in a tweet.
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Dadouch reported from Beirut.