One of the alleged members of the Saudi command accused of murdering the journalist of the same nationality Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 has been arrested this Tuesday in France and could be deported to Turkey. The arrest, made at Paris’ Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, comes just three days after French President Emmanuel Macron became one of the first world leaders to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin ever since. Salmán (MBS), whose alleged involvement in the case has made him almost an international pariah.
The “judicial arrest” took place on Tuesday morning “on the basis of a Turkish arrest warrant,” judicial sources have told EL PAÍS, according to which the suspect’s identity was being “verified.” French media, however, assure that it is Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi, a 33-year-old former member of the Saudi Royal Guard and that he was the subject of a search and arrest warrant from Interpol. The man, who was traveling according to the RTL station with his authentic passport and under his real name, was arrested when he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Al-Otaibi is one of 17 Saudis sanctioned in 2018 by the US Treasury Department for his role in the “horrendous murder” of Khashoggi, who lived in the United States and worked for the newspaper The Washington Post. The British Government, which also had him on its sanctioned list, affirms for its part that AL-Otaibi was “one of the 15 members of the team sent to Turkey by the Saudi authorities” and that it was “involved in the concealment of evidence in the residence of the Saudi consul general after the assassination ”.
The former special rapporteur for the High Commissioner for Human Rights Agnès Callamard, who produced a report on the murder of Khashoggi for which she received threats from Saudi authorities, has highlighted the importance of the arrest. “This could be an important step forward in the search for justice for Jamal Khashoggi,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General tweeted on Tuesday. “If it is the same person mentioned in various sanctions lists and in my report, then he was in the residence of the Saudi consulate” at the time of the crime, he added.
This could be a major breakthrough in the quest for justice for #JamalKhashoggi but more confirmation required. 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. https://t.co/IQzWqi8nX1
— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) December 7, 2021
Khashoggi, who was a critic of MBS, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 to obtain the documentation he needed to be able to marry his girlfriend, Hatice Cengiz. He was never seen leaving and, to this day, his remains have not been found. On October 31, 2018, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, Irfan Fidan, concluded that very shortly after entering the consulate, the journalist was killed by suffocation and his body dismembered. Riyadh has admitted that Saudi government agents killed Khashoggi at the consulate in Istanbul and has sentenced five people involved, without offering specific details of the trial, but Prince Bin Salman, accused of ordering the crime, has always denied his involvement.
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Macron met with Bin Salman on Saturday, as part of a tour of the region that also took him to the United Arab Emirates – where he closed a historic sale of French Rafale fighter jets – and Qatar. Strongly questioned about his appointment with the Saudi crown prince despite the fact that the suspicion of the murder of Khashoggi still hangs over him, the French president had justified the meeting, which made him one of the first international leaders to meet with the controversial crown prince , stating that the weight of Riyadh in the region cannot be ignored.
“Who can think for a single second that we help Lebanon, that we preserve peace and stability in the Middle East, if we say that we are not going to talk to Saudi Arabia, the most populous and most important country in the Gulf,” he said. “But that does not mean that I endorse anything, that I forget, it does not mean that we are not demanding partners (…) we act for our country and for the interest of the region,” he added. After his meeting with MBS, as Bin Salmán is popularly known, Macron assured that they spoke “about everything, without any taboo.” “Obviously, we have raised the issue of human rights (…) it has been a direct exchange,” he insisted.
At the moment it is unknown when, how and why Al-Otaibi arrived in France. According to the French press, the detainee will be presented to the Paris Prosecutor’s Office at some point until Wednesday, to be notified of his arrest warrant. At that point, the suspect will have to say whether he agrees to be deported, in which case he would be sent to Turkey, or whether he rejects the order. In that case, a judge will have to decide whether to order his preventive detention until his case is decided, according to the RTL radio network.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.