The French authorities have released Saudi citizen Khalid Aedh Al-Otaibi, who they believed to have been involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but only after his arrest at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport made global headlines. The police thought that they had apprehended one of the dozens of people suspected of involvement in the gruesome 2018 killing, but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
Al-Otaibi is a common family name in the Middle East originating with one of the largest tribes in the region. The surname is shared by hundreds of thousands of Saudis; it’s like the British Smith, Jones, or Brown if you like. I’ve no doubt, therefore, that those sharing the five-hundred-year-old surname will avoid flying into France any time soon and may want to avoid other Western countries too. Saudi Royal Guard Khalid Aedh Al-Otaibi’s name has featured on Interpol’s red list ever since Turkey issued an arrest warrant for him.
What the Paris arrest shows is that the outrage over Khashoggi’s murder shows no sign of abating, no matter how much Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman wishes it would. In fact, it has revived interest in the killing of the Saudi dissident and boosted his family’s quest for justice. A Turkish trial of the 26 suspects is ongoing but has been painfully slow because Saudi Arabia has refused to hand any of them over to the authorities in Ankara.A secret Saudi court did apparently sentence five of the 26 to death while another three were handed prison sentences for their part in the murder, but the final sentences were much lighter after the Saudi-based Khashoggi family were persuaded to forgive the killers. Access to the trial was limited, the names of those convicted were never made public and human rights groups rightly dismissed the whole process as a sham.
Back in France, meanwhile, once the error at the airport was pointed out, the French judiciary quickly released the innocent man on Wednesday. What a pity the wheels of French justice aren’t moving quite so swiftly for Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna and a leading European academic who is still trapped in legal limbo while the Islamophobic French authorities deliberate on the best way to extract themselves from what could be a hugely embarrassing climb down.
Moreover, at the start of this week, Bin Salman must have thought that he was going to see his reputation restored after French President Emmanuel Macron stopped off in Jeddah to meet him during a visit to several Gulf States. The French leader brushed off criticism from human rights groups objecting to the visit; he described the Kingdom as a key player in the region.
“Who can think for one second that you help Lebanon, that you preserve peace and stability in the Middle East if you say ‘We don’t talk to Saudi Arabia anymore,’ the most populated and most important country in the Gulf?” Macron declared. If he was really interested in peace and stability in the Middle East, of course, he would make a point of visiting Palestine to talk to leaders of Hamas, the leading political organisation in the country which is banned by the EU. The movement is key to delivering peace and stability for everyone in the region, but Europe and the US follow the Israeli narrative that legitimate Palestinian resistance to the military occupation of their country is “terrorism”. It’s a ridiculous situation.
Indeed, far from promoting peace in the region, Macron was probably peddling the weapons of war. I’ve no doubt that the real aim of his visit was to cash in on the Western cold shoulder given to Bin Salman by selling more French arms ahead of his country’s rivals. It is just as well that any such deals were sealed before the embarrassing case of mistaken identity made headlines.
While Macron may have opted for selective political amnesia ahead of his sojourn in Jeddah, the embarrassing mix-up over identities at Charles de Gaulle Airport has highlighted the fact that the rest of us are not prepared to forgive or forget the Saudi authorities led by Bin Salman until justice is delivered. We cannot simply overlook that Khashoggi’s murder was carried out by a hit squad of Saudi agents, many of whom apparently belonged to the Crown Prince’s personal security team. It is inconceivable that they could have acted without his say-so.
Following months of investigations and a forensic examination of audio recordings of events inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on that fateful October day three years ago, Turkish and US intelligence agencies are convinced that Mohammed Bin Salman and those in his employ ordered the abduction and murder of the Washington Post columnist. Like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, the Saudi Crown Prince has a spot of blood on his hands that refuses to be washed away. Lucrative business deals with France or any other country should not be allowed to cloud the issue. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done. Khashoggi’s family and friends deserve nothing less.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.