One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, sources said, a move welcomed by his fiancee and a rights group as a potential breakthrough.
A police source named the man as Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi, a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia. A judicial source confirmed the arrest and said authorities were in the process of verifying his identity.
But a Saudi official said it was a case of mistaken identity, adding that those convicted of the crime were currently serving their sentence in Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi, a critic of Prince Mohammed, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. Turkish officials believe his body was dismembered and removed. His remains have not been found.
His fiancée Hatice Cengiz had earlier welcomed reports of the arrest, which came days after French President Emmanuel Macron held face-to-face talks in Saudi Arabia with de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, becoming the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom since Khashoggi's murder.
"I welcome the arrest of one of Jamal's killers today in #France," Cengiz said. "France should try him for his crime, or extradite him to a country able and willing to genuinely investigate and prosecute him as well as the person who gave the order to murder Jamal."
The man was arrested on the basis of a warrant issued by Turkey in 2019, the police source told Reuters, adding that French prosecutors will now begin proceedings for a potential extradition there.
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Al-Otaibi, who is mentioned on UK and U.S. sanctions lists as being involved in Khashoggi's murder, was also on a French wanted list.
"This could be a major breakthrough in the quest for justice for #JamalKhashoggi but more confirmation required," said Agnes Callamard, head of Amnesty International who previously led a United Nations investigation into Khashoggi's killing.
"If it is indeed the same person as that named by various sanctions lists and my report, then he was at the Consulate Residence at the time."
RTL radio was first to break news of Al-Otaibi's arrest, earlier on Tuesday.
A U.S. intelligence report released in March said Prince Mohammed had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi in Oct. 2018. The Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejected the report's findings.
While Washington imposed sanctions on some of those involved, it spared the crown prince himself.
The Saudi embassy in Paris denied the arrest had any connection to the murder saying: "the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia... Would like to clarify that what was reported by the media is incorrect, and that the person who was arrested has nothing to do with the case in question." Regarding the man arrested, the embassy said it "expects his immediate release."
In the same statement the Saudi embassy asserted that the individuals responsible for Khashoggi's death have already been sentenced, saying: "The embassy would like to also reaffirm that the Saudi judiciary has issued verdicts against all those who participated in the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, all of them are currently serving their sentences."
In September 2020, a Saudi court jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years over the killing in a trial critics said lacked transparency. None of the defendants were named.