PARIS — French officials have freed a Saudi man a day after he was arrested on suspicion of links to the murder of the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, saying on Wednesday that it was a case of mistaken identity.
The French authorities arrested the man on Tuesday at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris because his name and age matched that of Khalid Alotaibi, 33, who is accused of being part of the team that killed Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. There is an outstanding Turkish arrest warrant against that Mr. Alotaibi, as well as an Interpol red notice.
Rémy Heitz, the prosecutor general, said in a statement that extensive verifications of the arrested man’s identity had established that the warrant did not apply to him. He was freed on Wednesday.
The arrest briefly reignited international speculation over the killing at a time when Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are seeking to rebuild their international reputations.
Mr. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi writer and columnist, was killed in October 2018 after entering the consulate to obtain the paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. Once inside, he was confronted by a team of Saudi agents who tried to persuade him to return to the kingdom, according to a report by a United Nations expert on the killing. When he refused, they killed him. His remains have never been found.
A Central Intelligence Agency assessment after the killing concluded that it was likely to have been ordered by Prince Mohammed. In February, President Biden allowed the release of an intelligence report that concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved the plan to capture or kill Mr. Khashoggi.
But the Saudis have called the killing a rogue operation and Prince Mohammed has denied that he ordered it or knew about it in advance.
The mix-up at the Paris airport came just days after President Emmanuel Macron of France, on a visit to several Gulf States this week, stopped in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to meet with Prince Mohammed.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International criticized Mr. Macron, accusing him of rehabilitating Prince Mohammed on the international stage. But Mr. Macron defended the visit, telling reporters that Saudi Arabia was 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?” Mr. Macron said.
“That doesn’t mean that I support, it doesn’t mean that I forget, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t demanding partners,” he added. “It’s just acting for our country and for the region’s interests.”
A Turkish trial of the suspects in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing has been proceeding slowly, mainly because Saudi Arabia has refused to hand over any of the accused.
A Saudi court sentenced five men to death and three to prison terms for the murder, but the death sentences were replaced by prison terms after one of Mr. Khashoggi’s sons said he and his siblings had pardoned the killers.
But access to the trial was limited, the names of those convicted were never made public and rights groups dismissed the process as a sham.