American lawyer who defended murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi detained in the UAE

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An American lawyer who defended murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been detained in the United Arab Emirates, sparking further controversy around President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East.

Asim Ghafoor was detained at Dubai airport on Thursday while travelling to Istanbul for a family wedding, according to Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

The human rights group said Mr Ghafoor is being held in a detention facility in Abu Dhabi on charges related to an in absentia conviction for money laundering.

Mr Ghafoor, a US citizen and civil rights attorney from Virginia who previously worked as an attorney for Khashoggi, had no prior knowledge of any conviction, DAWN said in a statement on Friday.

A senior US administration official confirmed on Saturday that officials were aware of Mr Ghafoor’s detention, reported the Associated Press.

However, it was not clear if Mr Biden was planning to raise the issue as he met with the UAE president in Saudi Arabia later that day.

“Certainly I think we have points on that about the importance of consular access and everything else,” the official said, adding that “there’s no indication that it has anything to do with the Khashoggi issue”.

It is unclear if Mr Ghafoor’s detention was raised in what appeared to be a friendly meeting between Mr Biden and UAE President Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday.

Asim Ghafoor was detained at Dubai airport on Thursday while travelling to Istanbul for a family wedding (The Intercept)
Asim Ghafoor was detained at Dubai airport on Thursday while travelling to Istanbul for a family wedding (The Intercept)

In the meeting, Mr Biden even formally invited his UAE counterpart, who took office in May, to visit the US by the end of 2022.

“Challenges you face today only make it a heck of a lot more important we spend time together,” Mr Biden told him. “I want to formally invite you to the States.”

The Independent has reached out to the White House for comment.

The meeting came as Mr Biden met with several Middle East leaders as part of his four-day trip to the region, including the man believed to have ordered the hit on Mr Khashoggi.

On 2 October 2018, Mr Khashoggi – a Washington Post journalist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government – was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

US intelligence agencies concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, had ordered his killing.

Biden blamed Saudi’s crown prince for ordering murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (AFP via Getty Images)
Biden blamed Saudi’s crown prince for ordering murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Biden met with MBS on Friday during his controversial trip and confronted the crown prince about his role in the murder. MBS denied any responsibility and fired back at the president with the US’s own controversies.

Mr Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia and meet MBS has come under fire, particularly given Mr Biden’s statements during his 2020 White House campaign that he would make Saudi Arabia a “pariah”.

The president sparked further backlash when he greeted MBS with a friendly fist-bump at the start of their meeting on Friday.