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Man detained in Paris in connection with Khashoggi killing released

The Saudi Embassy in France said Tuesday that media reports were “inaccurate” and the arrested person “had no link” to the journalist's murder.
Vigil for Khashoggi at Saudi Consulate in Istanbul
People take part in a candlelight vigil to remember journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul.Chris McGrath / Getty Images file

PARIS — A person detained in connection with the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Paris airport was not the wanted man and has been released, the Paris prosecutor said in a statement Wednesday.

"At the end of his judicial detention, he was released," added the statement, which was shared with NBC News by his office. It did not explain how or why officials had detained the wrong man.

The news comes after two officials close to the investigation told NBC News on Tuesday that a 33-year-old man of Saudi origin with the name Khalid Alotaibi had been arrested at border control in Charles de Gaulle Airport in connection with Khashoggi’s killing. His passport check flagged an Interpol Red Notice for his name issued by Turkish authorities, they said.

A Khalid Alotaibi is listed by the Treasury Department as one of 17 Saudis sanctioned in 2018 for their roles in the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

In February, the Biden administration released an intelligence report that concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had approved Jamal Khashoggi's killing.Anadolu Agency / via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Saudi Embassy in France released a statement saying media reports were "inaccurate" and the arrested person "had no link" to the "Khashoggi affair."

"The Saudi Embassy awaits their immediate release," the statement said, adding that the Saudi justice system had issued verdicts against those responsible for the journalist's murder and they were serving their respective sentences.

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, had welcomed the arrest Tuesday, posting on Twitter that "France should try him for his crime, or extradite him to a country able and willing to genuinely investigate and prosecute him."

The arrest came as the crown prince pushed to change the narrative around his tainted leadership and move the Saudi story on from Khashoggi.

The Washington Post journalist's gruesome murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 horrified the world and tarnished the crown prince’s reputation as a modernizer and someone with whom Western governments could work.

The latest plot twist comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron became the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder — a coup for the crown prince.

This week, the de facto leader is on a tour of Gulf states that Middle East watchers say aims to present him as a regional leader and a welcomed guest in the Gulf. On Sunday, he posed in front of the world's media beaming ahead of a nail-biting Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Having first denied involvement in Khashoggi's killing, the Saudi government eventually admitted he was killed in the consulate but said he had died by accident as the team tried to forcibly extradite him.

The Saudis have said the team acted independently and that the crown prince had no involvement in his death. But in February, the Biden administration released an intelligence report that concluded the crown prince approved his killing.

The crown prince said in 2019 that he took “full responsibility” because it happened on his watch, but he denied having ordered Khashoggi's killing.

Nancy Ing reported from Paris; Saphora Smith reported from London.