France arrests suspected member of Khashoggi murder squad

Tuesday December 07 2021
Khashoggi pic

Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A complex man of contradictions, Khashoggi went from being a Saudi royal family insider to an outspoken critic of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s government. PHOTO|FILE

By AFP

French police on Tuesday arrested a suspected member of the hit squad that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul and who is wanted by Turkey to face justice over the killing.

Khalid Alotaibi, 33, was detained by border police on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Turkey as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh from Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport, judicial and airport sources said. He is due to appear before prosecutors on Wednesday.

He is one of 26 Saudis charged in absentia by Turkey over the killing in a trial that got underway in October 2020. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment. 

Two of the 26 being tried in absentia in Turkey are former aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. No Saudi official has ever faced justice in person in Turkey for the killing.

Alotaibi is also one of 17 people that the US Treasury designated for sanctions in 2018 over their role in the murder.

He has the right to fight extradition to Turkey. If he does, the French judiciary must decide whether to keep him in detention pending a formal Turkish extradition request, or to free him on condition that he does not leave France.

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It can typically take several weeks for a court to rule on whether to hand him over to Turkey against his will.

In September 2020, a Saudi court overturned five death sentences issued after a closed-door trial in Saudi Arabia, sentencing the accused to 20 years in prison instead.

Khashoggi -- a prominent Saudi who lived in self-exile in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post -- entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 to file paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancee.

According to US and Turkish officials, a waiting Saudi hit squad strangled him and dismembered his body, which has never been retrieved.

The gruesome murder sparked international outrage that continues to reverberate, with Western intelligence agencies accusing Prince Mohammed bin Salman of authorising the killing.


- Not 'forgotten' -

Tuesday's arrest of Alotaibi comes only days after French President Emmanuel Macron defended his decision to include Saudi Arabia in a tour of Gulf states, saying the visit did not mean that he had "forgotten" about the Khashoggi case.

After meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Macron said he had raised the question of human rights "without any taboo", and said he hoped to see progress over the coming weeks and months.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from "the highest levels" of the Saudi government and the case led to tensions between Ankara and Riyadh.

But Erdogan has never directly blamed Prince Mohammed and there have in recent months been signs of the thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, with the Turkish foreign minister visiting Riyadh earlier this year in a bid to mend ties.

Crucially there have also been signs after many years of tensions in the wake of the 2016 failed coup bid of a thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia's top ally the United Arab Emirates, with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed visiting Turkey last month.

On the third anniversary of the killing, Khashoggi's widow Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate while the murder took place, accused the US of failing to hold Saudi Arabia accountable.