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French police arrest man in connection with Jamal Khashoggi killing


French police have arrested a man on suspicion of being a former member of the Saudi royal guard accused of being involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The man, named as Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, was taken into custody at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport as he was about to board a plane to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

In a statement on Twitter, the Saudi embassy in Paris said that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity, adding that those convicted of the crime were currently serving their sentence in Saudi Arabia. “The Kingdom’s embassy expects his immediate release,” it said.

Authorities in France were reportedly still seeking to verify the man’s identity, and whether they were holding the same man who was wanted by Turkish authorities.

He is expected to appear before a judge in the next few hours, where he will be presented with the choice of being flown to Turkey or contesting the arrest warrant and being placed in police custody awaiting extradition.

Late on Tuesday, French police said they were still unsure if 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 spokesperson told reporters. “At this point, we don’t know.”

If the man’s identity is confirmed, his arrest would mark the first time that any individual accused by international experts of participating in the grisly state-sponsored execution of the Washington Post columnist has been arrested outside Saudi Arabia.

Otaibi, 33, has been named as one of the “commando” group in the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was killed on 2 October 2018, and was among 17 individuals sanctioned by the US for their suspected role in the murder. He has also served as a personal security official for the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

He was on the Interpol red list after an arrest warrant was issued by Turkey, where last year 20 Saudi officials were put on trial in absentia over the journalist’s killing. The detained man was travelling under his real name, according to French radio RTL, which broke the story.

An investigation into the murder by Agnès Callamard, the then UN special rapporteur of extrajudicial killings, has described Otaibi as a close associate and personal security officer for Prince Mohammed, who has been accused by US intelligence agencies of approving the Khashoggi murder. In her report, Callamard said Otaibi accompanied the prince on his 2017 trip to the US.

Khashoggi, a former Saudi insider with close ties to the royal court, was a subtle but influential critic of the prince at a time in 2018 when Riyadh was seeking to portray the crown prince as a reformer.

In his columns for the Washington Post, Khashoggi warned about the silencing of critics in the kingdom and what he saw as increasingly hostile atmosphere against intellectuals and others who supported reform. His brutal murder, in which his killers are alleged to have called him a “sacrificial lamb”, stunned the world in part because it seemed so brazen, occurring within the walls of the Saudi consulate while his fiancee waited for him outside.

Callamard’s investigation concluded that Otaibi was one of several officials who was in the consul general’s residence at the time of the murder. That means he was not likely physically present at the time of the killing, but may have handled the bags in which pieces of Khashoggi’s body were later carried and brought to the consulate residence, located next to the Saudi consulate.

“If he is the official I have identified in my report, and he was located in the residence, then I think he would be one of those who could provide information on the location of the body,” said Callamard, who is now secretary general of Amnesty International.

Later, after the murder, Callamard’s report states, Otaibi left Istanbul in a jet with Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer who worked for a senior adviser to the crown prince and has been accused of playing a key role in the execution.

Callamard said that if confirmed, the news would mark a “major breakthrough” for justice, and said she would be grateful that “finally one perpetrator could be held to account”.

But she said it would also prove that Saudi Arabia’s trial of officials associated with the murder had been a sham.

“If he was walking the streets of the world, that would be very strong indictment and indeed would confirm everything we said about the pretence of justice in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“The fact that he may have been involved in the killing should not detract us from focusing on the mastermind. It is great that the hit men are maybe paying for their crimes, but it is not enough. We need the mastermind,” she said.

The arrest comes as the Saudi crown prince has sought to rehabilitate his image internationally, and just days after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and met the Saudi crown prince.

A United Nations investigation and US intelligence agencies both concluded that the operation was almost certainly signed off by the crown prince. Riyadh denies Prince Mohammed had any knowledge of the plot or its botched cover-up.



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