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A protest demandingh justice for Jamal Khashoggi

Members of Reporters Without Borders stage a protest demanding justice for murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Berlin, Germany on October 1, 2019. (Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Potential 'Major Breakthrough' as French Arrest Suspect in Jamal Khashoggi Killing

A former U.N. expert said the suspect may know where the Washington Post journalist's body is located.

Julia Conley

A former top United Nations human rights official expressed hope Tuesday that the arrest of one of the Saudi suspects in the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi would "be a major breakthrough in the quest for justice" as the suspect was held in judicial detention in France.

Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, a former member of the Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who was identified as a suspect in the murder in a U.N. report, was reportedly arrested at Charles de Gaulle Airport as he was boarding a flight to Riyadh.

Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International and a former special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings at the U.N. who authored the report released in 2019, said that "more confirmation is required" about the arrest but that the detained person is believed to have been involved in Khashoggi's killing.

The arrest comes amid widespread criticism by human rights advocates of French President Emmanuel Macron's meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's defense minister, in recent days.

Macron's recent meeting with bin Salman—commonly called MBS— in Saudi Arabia is the first by a leader of a major Western country since Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in what both the U.N. and a U.S. investigation concluded was a state-sponsored execution that had the approval of the prince. Bin Salman has denied involvement and the Saudi government has claimed the killing was a "rogue operation."

"Nothing can justify their legitimization of a ruler who kills journalists, threatens activists, imprisons women human rights defenders, slaughters Yemeni civilians, and deceives the international community. Macron diminishes himself and his own country as he stoops to partnership with MBS," Callamard said last week.

Al-Otaibi's arrest could send a "message to MBS that he may also face arrest if he turns up in Paris," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), which was founded by Khashoggi in 2018.

The arrest is the first of anyone accused of participating in the murder, outside of Saudi Arabia. A Saudi court convicted eight people who remained anonymous in the case in 2019, in a trial that Callamard called "the antithesis of justice."

Al-Otaibi was seen with bin Salman in the U.S. during the prince's trip there in 2017. In her report, Callamard identified him as one of the officials who was at the consul general's residence—located next to the consulate in Istanbul—when Khashoggi was killed.

While he may not have been present when Khashoggi was killed, Callamard told The Guardian Tuesday, al-Otaibi "would be one of those who could provide information on the location of the body."

According to The Guardian, al-Otaibi was expected to appear before a judge late on Tuesday. The court is expected to give him the choice of contesting the arrest and staying in custody while he awaits extradition or being immediately sent to Turkey, where he is one of 26 Saudis sought by authorities.

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