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Khashoggi: Saudi suspected of murder arrested in France

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
Khaled Aedh al-Otaibi, whose 2018 passport is shown here, is a former member of the royal guard who was present in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s murder (Screengrab)

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
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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.

United Nations report into Jamal Khashoggi's death: The key points

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Read the full report
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  • Khashoggi's killing "constituted an extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible"
  • The Special Rapporteur found credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • The Special Rapporteur found credible evidence that crime scenes were forensically cleaned
  • Both Saudi and Turkish investigations into death fell short of international standards
  • Pathologist on murder team discussed dismembering body 13 minutes before Khashoggi arrived at consultate
  • Audio recording suggests a struggle involving likely asphyxiation using a bag lasted seven minutes

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.

Riyadh's changing story on Khashoggi killing

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4 October 2018: The consulate-general of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul says it is "following up" on the disappearance of Khashoggi, coordinating with Turkish law enforcement on his whereabouts "after he left the consulate building".

5 October 2018: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaking to Bloomberg: "He's a Saudi citizen and we are very keen to know what happened to him. And we will continue our dialogue with the Turkish government to see what happened to Jamal there."

8 October 2018: Saudi ambassador to the US tells the Washington Post it would be "impossible" for Khashoggi to have been killed by consulate staff and for his death to have been covered up without them being aware of it.

19 October 2018: Saudi Arabia admits on state TV that Khashoggi did not leave the consulate as originally claimed, but says he was killed in a “fistfight” in the building.

21 October 2018: An anonymous Saudi official tells Reuters that the team of 15 Saudi nationals sent to confront Khashoggi in the consulate had threatened him with being drugged and abducted and then killed him with a chokehold when he resisted. Other Saudi officials confirm the chokehold account.

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, speaking to Fox News: "This was an operation that was a rogue operation. This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made a mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate, and they tried to cover up for it."

25 October 2018: Saudi prosecutor says the killing of Khashoggi was "premeditated" based on Turkish authorities' evidence and not an accident as they previously suggested.

15 November 2018: After investigations carried out by the Saudi public prosecutor in Istanbul, his office says that 11 Saudi nationals have been indicted and charged with murdering Khashoggi and that five of those will face the death penalty.

"The head of the negotiation team concluded that it would not be possible to transfer the victim by force to the safe location in case the negotiations with him to return failed. The head of the negotiation team decided to murder the victim if the negotiations failed. The investigation concluded that the incident resulted in murder," says the prosecutor, adding that the head of the mission had written a  "false report" that Khashoggi had left the building.

29 September 2019: Mohammed bin Salman on whether he ordered Khashoggi's killing: "Absolutely not. This was a heinous crime. But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government."

"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.