The Saudi national arrested in Paris this week on suspicion of being involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was just a tourist who had been holidaying with a friend in France, an official familiar with the investigation said.
After his return to the kingdom, the man gave an interview to Saudi Arabia’s Al Ekhbariya television aired on Thursday.
“They put me in a room…, it had a lot of glass like the ones used for criminals to observe them and there wasn’t good ventilation,” said the main, dressed in a casual black sweater and a black cap. “Through the glass, they were watching me as if I were an animal in the zoo.”
The man, who was freed on Wednesday, was detained after his passport was scanned as he passed through immigration at the French capital’s main international airport on his way out of the country. The official said the man was travelling on a valid visa.
The man shared the same nationality, given name and family name and year of birth as Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi, a former member of the Saudi Royal Guard identified in U.S. and British sanctions lists, and a U.N.-commissioned report, as being involved in Khashoggi’s 2018 murder.
But the detained man’s patronymic name was different from that of Al-Otaibi the suspect, who is wanted by Turkey on an international arrest warrant. So too was his passport number, the official and a police source said.
The Turkish warrant stated a year of birth but not the day and month, neither of which were a match, the two sources said.
However, the likeness was enough for the passport scan to alert border police of a potential identity match with a wanted person.
Algorithms are used to draw together details in a passport and match against those detailed in warrants. If there is a certain degree of match, a system-issued notification lets border officials know further checks are needed, the police source said.
In the TV interview, the almost-namesake to the suspected Khashoggi killer said that, at first, French authorities would not allow him to contact the Saudi embassy in Paris.
“I told them I want to speak to the embassy but they wouldn’t let me. I have the ambassador’s personal number but they wouldn’t let me use my mobile,” he said.
Eventually, the French officers allowed him to take an incoming call from the embassy, who told him that his case was being handled, he added.
France’s interior ministry and the national police force declined to comment on the mistaken identity.
A declassified U.S. intelligence assessment released in February said Saudi’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved of the operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.
The Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejected the report’s findings.
Khashoggi, a journalist and critic of the prince, 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.
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