Khashoggi: Saudi suspected of murder arrested in France

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Man believed to be Khaled Aedh al-Otaibi, who was in the Istanbul consulate on the day of Khashoggi’s murder, held at Roissy airport

A man believed to be Khaled Aedh al-Otaibi, one of the Saudi men suspected of killing Jamal Khashoggi, was arrested in France on Tuesday, according to French radio station RTL.

A former member of the royal guard who was present in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s murder, 2 October 2018, Otaibi was reportedly arrested at Roissy airport on Tuesday morning as he was about to fly to Saudi Arabia.EXCLUSIVE: Seven of bin Salman’s bodyguards among Khashoggi suspects.

Otaibi, 33, was travelling using his real passport, RTL reported, despite being wanted by Interpol.

Police sources told Reuters that France acted on a warrant issued by Turkey in 2019, adding that French prosecutors will now begin proceedings for potential extradition there.

A Saudi official, speaking to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity, said he had no information on the arrest but said “my personal advice is that you make sure it’s not a matter of name similarity”.

Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, was killed in the consulate after he entered the premises to obtain paperwork for his planned marriage to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. His remains are yet to be found.

A Turkish court is currently trying 26 Saudis in absentia for involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. The next hearing is set for 24 February 2022.

‘Must be further accountability’

Cengiz said the news of the arrest “is a very significant first step for justice for Jamal”.

“I have been waiting for too long, now the first person has finally been arrested,” she told Middle East Eye.

“Justice must be allowed to take its proper course. There should be no undue interferences which allow[s] him to be released, as it is vital that he is put on trial for his criminal acts.

Cengiz added that there must be further accountability for the individuals “who gave the order for Jamal’s brutal killing, including the Crown Prince himself. They must also be arrested and prosecuted”.

Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders said they would take legal steps that would require a French investigative judge to examine a potential case against the Saudi national arrested on Tuesday for his suspected links to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“This could be a major breakthrough in the quest for justice for #JamalKhashoggi but more confirmation required,” said Agnes Callamard, head of Amnesty International who previously led a United Nations investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.

“If it is indeed the same person as that named by various sanctions lists and my report, then he was at the Consulate Residence at the time.”

A Saudi official told Reuters that there has been a mistake.

“Media reports suggesting that a person who was implicated in the crime against Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi has been arrested in France are false,” the Saudi official said.

“This is a case of mistaken identity. Those convicted of the crime are currently serving their sentences in Saudi Arabia.”

Otaibi was also placed under sanctions last year by the UK, and by the US and Canada in November 2018.

A Saudi passport held by a man with the same name was used to enter the United States “on trips that overlapped with three visits by members of the royal family”, The Washington Post reported in 2018.

The news comes days after French President Emmanuel Macron held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah. Otaibi was seen in the crown prince’s company during a 2017 trip to the United States, according to the UN report on Khashoggi’s murder.

In the aftermath of the killing, Middle East Eye obtained gruesome details of Khashoggi’s death, including that Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table while he was still alive.

MEE also revealed the existence of Saudi Arabia’s “Tiger Squad“, a small unit specialising in silencing critics or opponents of the Saudi authorities, which operates under the guidance and supervision of Mohammed bin Salman. Otaibi was reportedly a member of the unit.

‘Beyond a shadow of a doubt’

When Khashoggi’s disappearance came to light, Saudi authorities initially insisted he left the building alive, taking two weeks to acknowledge the journalist had been killed. Still, Riyadh claims the assassination was a rogue operation that happened without the approval of top officials.

Shortly after US President Joe Biden was sworn into office, the director of national intelligence released a report that concluded Mohammed bin Salman had approved the murder.

“We have always known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman directed the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi,” the report said.

In 2019, the Washington Post reported that some members of the Saudi team that murdered Khashoggi received training in the US.

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