French police reported Tuesday the arrest of a Saudi man suspected of being involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khaled Aedh Alotaibi was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, a police source confirmed to the BBC.
Alotaibi, a 33-year-old former Saudi royal guard, was traveling under his own name and was placed in judicial detention, RTL radio said.
He is believed to be one of 26 men wanted by Turkey for the murder of the newspaper columnist. Washington Post at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Saudi Arabia, which first denied the facts, then said that the journalist had been killed in a “dishonest operation”At the hands of a team of agents sent to persuade him to return to the kingdom.
However, Turkish intelligence assures that the agents acted under orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.
The assassination sparked a global scandal and damaged the image of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has denied any role in the columnist’s death.
A Saudi official on Tuesday considered that the arrest in France was a case of mistaken identity and that those involved in the murder had been convicted in their country.
A Saudi court convicted eight unidentified people of the murder in 2019.
Five of them were found guilty of participating directly in the murder and handed down death sentences against them which were later commuted to 20 years in prison.
Meanwhile, the other three received sentences of seven to 10 years for covering up the crime.
The Saudi trial was rated as “the antithesis of justice”By the then UN Special Rapporteur, Agnès Callamard.
The death of Khashoggi
In a damning report published in 2019, Callamard concluded that Khashoggi was “Victim of a deliberate and premeditated execution” for which the Saudi state was responsible.
Tuesday’s arrest comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron became the first Western leader to meet with the Saudi crown prince since Khashoggi’s assassination.
“We talked about absolutely everything, without any taboos and obviously we were able to raise the issue of human rights,” Macron told reporters on Saturday.
What about the suspect?
The Callamard report says Saudi prosecutors ordered Alotaibi’s arrest as part of an investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, but ultimately decided not to charge him.
The report named Alotaibi as a member of the Royal Guard, a unit of the Saudi Arabian military.
The man was seen in the presence of Crown Prince Salman during a visit to the United States in 2017, according to the report.
The document notes that Alotaibi arrived in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, and was inside the residence of the Saudi consul general during Khashoggi’s assassination.
Saudi Arabia had rejected a request to extradite Alotaibi to Turkey, where he is being tried in absentia in Istanbul on a murder charge.
But on Tuesday, a police source confirmed that French authorities had executed Turkey’s arrest warrant.
Alotaibi was arrested as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Callamard, who is now Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in a tweet that the arrest “could be a major advance in the search for justice.”
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée at the time of his murder, welcomed the arrest and urged France to “try him for his crime or extradite him to a country capable and willing” to do so.
Analysis by Frank Gardner, BBC Security Correspondent
This latest development after Khashoggi’s assassination will not be very welcome in Riyadh. At the same time, it potentially offers a breakthrough in the unfinished investigation requested by the former UN Special Rapporteur and human rights groups.
As for the Saudis, this story ended a long time ago when several lesser figures were brought to trial. This, they say, was a “rogue operation” and everyone involved has now been brought to justice.
But Turkey, which bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where the murder took place and therefore has intimate knowledge of what happened inside, has indicted more than 20 Saudis in absentia.
Western intelligence officials also believe that the most important instigators of this planned assassination have escaped with impunity.
If the suspect arrested in France is transferred to Turkey for trial, an intense diplomatic row is likely to break out.
How did Jamal Khashoggi die?
The 59-year-old journalist, who went into exile in the US in 2017, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018.
He was trying to get the documents he needed to marry his girlfriend.
She accompanied him to the entrance of the consulate and waited more than 10 hours outside the building for Khashoggi, who never came out again.
In his report, Callamard concluded that the journalist was “brutally murdered” inside the consulate that day.
The then rapporteur came to that conclusion after listening to alleged audio recordings of conversations within the consulate made by Turkish intelligence.
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