In a very awkward 24 hours for French authorities, it turns out the man they arrested as a suspect in the murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi was a case of mistaken identity.
A 33-year-old man was detained at Charles de Gaulle Airport and placed in detention before his flight from Paris to Riyadh on Tuesday morning. A French radio station identified the man as former member of the Saudi Royal Guard Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi, citing sources in the French police and judicial system. In 2019, Al-Otaibi was one of 16 Saudis barred from entry into the United States for “their roles in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” according to the State Department; he was also sanctioned by the British government last year and is on the Interpol red list.
The Saudi embassy in France immediately cast doubt on the arrest, saying in a statement that “the person who was arrested has nothing to do with the case in question.” French police joined in on Tuesday, saying through a spokesperson, “It’s still possible that this is the right person, just as it’s still possible that it’s the wrong person. At this point, we don’t know.” Finally, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Wednesday the man was released from detention following “thorough checks,” according to the Post.
On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document related to his divorce, at which point, prosecutors say, he was suffocated and dismembered by a group of 15 Saudi agents who subsequently exited the country that day. While Saudi officials initially claimed that Khashoggi had left the building alive, they later admitted he was killed in the embassy after he attempted to flee. In February, a U.S. intelligence report on the murder found that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “approved” the operation, stating that he has had “absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations” since 2017.