A Saudi man held at a Paris airport over suspected links to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested because his passport triggered an alert, a police source said on Wednesday, after Saudi Arabia said it was a case of mistaken identity.
French law enforcement sources have named the man arrested on Tuesday as Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi – the same name as a former member of the Saudi Royal Guard listed in US and British sanctions documents and a UN-commissioned report as having been involved in Khashoggi’s killing in Turkey.
The Saudi Embassy in Paris said late on Tuesday the arrested person “has nothing to do with the case in question” and should be immediately released.
The man was intercepted at the airport on Tuesday morning when his passport triggered an alert based on a Turkish arrest warrant while being scanned, the police source said on Wednesday. The alert showed he was wanted in connection with a murder investigation, the source said.
The source said authorities have 48 hours from the moment he was arrested at the airport – so until around 10 am (09:00 GMT) on Thursday – to verify who he is and either release him or take him before a prosecutor to notify him of the arrest warrant and take steps to detain him longer.
In a separate deadline, Turkey has a total of 40 days from the arrest to notify the French via diplomatic channels of a formal extradition request, a judicial source said. If the request is not made, the suspect would be released.
French police have his passport details and a picture of rather poor quality based on the Turkish arrest warrant, but no biometric information, the police source noted, adding that they could potentially request more information from Turkey.
A 2019 UN investigation report said Al-Otaibi was a member of a 15-man Saudi team involved in killing Khashoggi after the journalist went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document to allow him to marry his fiancee.
The report said Al-Otaibi was one of five members of the team who were not in the consulate itself – where the report said the killing took place – but in the consul general’s residence, where the body was taken.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. Turkish officials believe his body was dismembered and removed. His remains have not been found.
A US intelligence report released in March this year said Prince Mohammed had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi. The Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejected the report’s findings.
Last weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron held face-to-face talks in Saudi Arabia with Prince Mohammed, becoming the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom since Khashoggi’s murder.
The suspect was arrested on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight from Paris to Riyadh, sources said. It was unclear when he arrived in France and how he entered the country without triggering an alert.
The Saudi government media office CIC did not immediately respond to a request for information on the man who was arrested, whether Saudi Arabia was providing him with legal assistance and whether the kingdom was in touch with French authorities regarding his release.
- A Reuter report