French officials admitted Wednesday that they got the wrong man, a day after arresting a Saudi national suspected of participating in the brutal murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Saudi Arabian officials on Tuesday quickly criticized the arrest as a case of mistaken identity, and the Paris General Prosecutor’s Office said a daylong investigation revealed that the man in custody was not the same Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi named in an arrest warrant in Turkey, where Khashoggi was targeted by a Saudi Arabian government hit team.
“Extensive checks on the identity of this person showed that the warrant did not apply to him. … [H]e was released,” the Paris office said in a terse statement.
The man arrested Tuesday at Paris-Charles De Gaulle Airport apparently had the same name as the suspect.
A U.N. investigative report two years ago identified a man with the same name as a former member of the Saudi Royal Guard and a participant in the 15-member hit team that killed Khashoggi, a frequent critic of the royal regime living in exile when he visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain some official papers for his upcoming wedding.
The about-face is an embarrassment for French President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought to improve relations with Riyadh and just days earlier became the first major Western leader to hold talks in Saudi Arabia with de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.