On December 8, French police arrested a Saudi national suspected of being involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which took place at the Saudi Istanbul consulate more than three years ago. However, Riyadh claims the arrest was a mistake.
Khalid Alotaibi, 33, was detained by French border police on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Turkey just before taking a flight to Riyadh from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The Interpol Red Notice issued at Turkey’s request came up at the moment when the traveller was passing through passport control. The details were revealed by anonymous judicial and airport sources cited by the AFP.
Khalid Alotaibi is one of 26 Saudi nationals who are believed by Turkish and international authorities to have taken part in the murder. They all were charged in absentia by Turkey over the killing in a trial that got under way in October 2020. Two of them are former aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Alotaibi is also one of 17 people that the US Treasury designated for sanctions in 2018 over their role in the murder.
However, investigators are still seeking to confirm that the man arrested with a passport in the name of Khalid Alotaibi was indeed the suspect by the same name sought by Turkey and sanctioned by the US over the killing of Khashoggi. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment.
In its turn, the Saudi embassy in Paris has issued a statement claiming that the man arrested “has nothing to do with the case in question” and his arrest was a case of “mistaken identity”. Demanding Alotaibi’s immediate release, Saudi security source told al-Jazeera that “Khaled Alotaibi” was a very common name in the kingdom, and that the Alotaibi the French thought they were holding was actually serving time in prison in Saudi Arabia along with “all the defendants in the case”.
Saudi Arabia itself had already tried a number of the accused. Five of them were sentenced to death after a closed-door trial, but the Saudi court later changed the sentences to 20 years in prison. At the same time, investigations by the UN and CIA concluded that the assassination was ordered by the top Saudi officials, namely crown prince MbS.
The Alotaibi’s arrest came just in time, only days after French President Emmanuel Macron held face-to-face talks with Crown Prince MbS, becoming the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom since Khashoggi’s murder. Macron clarified that his visit did not mean that he had forgotten about the incident, but he literally welcomed MbS “back into the fold” of respected world leaders.
Macron’s voyage was surprisingly fruitful. First of all, he signed a deal with the UAE for the sale of 12 Caracal military transport helicopters manufactured by the French Airbus and 80 Rafale fighters of Dassault Aviation. The UAE should pay $ 18 billion for the French-made fighters and about $ 19 billion for the helicopters. This is not only an important contribution to the French military-industrial complex, but also an attempt to compensate for the failed contract with Australia, which had a total value of $ 66 billion.
Paris is clearly striving to expand political contacts with the Persian Gulf states, including on the Iranian nuclear issue, which remained in the spotlight during the Macron’s tour. The French leader stressed out his intention to contribute to the stabilization in Lebanon as well as to deal with the Afghan problem together with the Gulf countries, including through the opening of a joint representative office in Kabul.
The strengthening of the Paris’ influence over the Middle East may be percepted as a challenge for the Turkish ambitions in the region. The arrest in Paris comes as Turkey is seeking to rekindle ties with the Saudi Arabia and other Arab states amid rapid decline of the Turkish lira.
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