PARIS. French officials released the Saudi a day after his arrest on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi, saying Wednesday it was a case of mistaken identity.
French authorities arrested the man on Tuesday at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris because his name and age match that of 33-year-old Khalid Alotaibi, who is accused of being part of the team that killed Mr. Khashoggi in Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul in 2018. The Turkish arrest warrant for this Mr. Alotaibi did not show, as well as a red notice from Interpol.
Remi Heitz, the attorney general, said in a statement that a thorough identity check of the arrested person had determined that the warrant did not apply to him. He was released on Wednesday.
The arrest briefly sparked worldwide speculation about the assassination as Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are trying to restore their international reputation.
Mr. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi writer and columnist, was killed in October 2018 after entering the consulate to obtain the paperwork needed to marry his Turkish bride. Once inside, he was confronted by a group of Saudi agents who were trying to convince him to return to the kingdom, according to a United Nations expert report on the assassination. When he refused, he was killed. His remains have never been found.
The CIA’s post-assassination assessment concluded that the assassination was likely ordered by Prince Mohammed. In February, President Biden authorized the release of an intelligence report that concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved a plan to capture or assassinate Mr. Khashoggi.
But the Saudis called the assassination a fraudulent operation, and Prince Mohammed denied that he ordered the assassination or knew about it in advance.
The Paris airport confusion comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited several Gulf countries this week, stopped in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to meet with Prince Mohammed.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International criticized Mr. Macron, accusing him of rehabilitating Prince Mohammed on the international stage. But Mr. Macron defended the visit, telling reporters that Saudi Arabia was a key player in the region.
“Who can think for a second that you are helping Lebanon, that you are maintaining peace and stability in the Middle East, if you say: ‘We no longer talk to Saudi Arabia,’ the most populous and most important country in the Persian Gulf?” – said Mr. Macron.
“It doesn’t mean that I support, it doesn’t mean that I forget, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need partners,” he added. “It just works in the interests of our country and the region.”
The Turkish trial of the suspects in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi is progressing slowly, mainly because Saudi Arabia has refused to extradite any of the accused.
A Saudi court sentenced five men to death and three to jail for murder, but the death sentences were commuted to prison terms after one of Mr. Khashoggi’s sons announced that he and his siblings had pardoned the killers.
But access to the court was limited, the names of the convicts were never released, and the trial was dismissed as fiction by human rights groups.