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Saudi Arabia's explanation for Khashoggi's death draws criticism

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Saudi Arabia's explanation for Khashoggi's death draws criticism

Image: Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle
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Middle East Monitor
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Saudi Arabia finally said Friday evening that 18 of its citizens are responsible for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate, with the Saudi general prosecutor claiming that the writer's death was a result of a "quarrel and fighting by hand."

On Friday, President Donald Trump continued to stop short of criticizing the Saudi government, which he maintains close diplomatic ties with after making a major arms deal worth $110 billion in May 2017.

He called the alleged fistfight "a theory that was put out" on Friday. His comment came days after he suggested that Khashoggi, a Virginia resident who disappeared Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was murdered by "rogue killers."

"It's early — we haven't finished our review or investigation — but it's, I think, a very important first step, and it happened sooner than people thought it would happen," the president said Friday after news of the arrests became public.

But the kingdom's latest explanation, its numerous changes in narrative and the fact that Khashoggi's body still has not been discovered leaves a number of unanswered questions and has earned international criticism, as well as criticism from many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have called for the president to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. Some have gone as far as to call for Trump to pull back on the nation's close ties with the kingdom.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Marine Corps veteran, provided a particularly blistering statement that said "our country must stand up for our values and demand our allies respect human rights — I did not fight to have us look the other way."

The congressman, who is in the middle of a tough reelection bid for a district that Hillary Clinton won by 9 points in 2016, called for an international and diplomatic response.

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"The United States and the rest of the international community must condemn the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and the use of diplomatic posts as torture chambers for rogue nations," Coffman said in a statement. "I am calling on President Trump to immediately recall the (Acting) U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom pending further consultation with Congress."

Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of President Trump and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not seem to buy this latest development.

"To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement," Graham tweeted.

Graham signed onto a letter to Trump along with Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn, Bob Menendez, D-N.J. and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as well as 18 other senators last week that triggered an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Act. The law allows the federal government to sanction and restrict the travel of those people who violate human rights.

"The story the Saudis have told about Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance continues to change with each passing day, so we should not assume their latest story holds water," said Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Friday evening. "They can undergo their own investigation, but the U.S. administration must make its own independent, credible determination of responsibility for Khashoggi's murder under the Global Magnitsky investigation as required by law."

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who also signed the letter and serves as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed with his Republican colleague's assessment, stating that "the explanation by Saudi officials that [Khashoggi] was killed in an impromptu 'fist fight' is not credible."

Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists both called for an independent investigation, a demand that has earned international support.

Numerous countries across the globe have called for further clarity surrounding Khashoggi's death.

The Associated Press reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a party conference for in Thuringia that "still nothing has been cleared up," adding that her government would demand transparency.

Germany is in a similar economic position with Saudi Arabia as the United States, as the German government authorized arm exports worth more than $290 million to Saudi Arabia over the past six months, according to the AP.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also emphasized that many questions remain surrounding Khashoggi's death.

"A lot still remains uncertain. What happened? How did he die? Who is responsible? I expect and I hope that all relevant facts will be clear as soon as possible," Rutte said in Copenhagen, according to Reuters. "Thorough investigation is necessary."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has also received some international support as well.

Egypt Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared a statement that gave the benefit of the doubt to the Saudi king, asserting that the Kingdom appeared committed "to finding the truth of this incident and taking the required legal action against those involved."

"The Arab Republic of Egypt offers the sincerest condolences to journalist Jamal Khashoggi's family, and expresses its trust that the judicial procedures undertaken by the Saudi government will resolve the truth of what happened with irrefutable evidence, and cut off any attempt to politicize the case with the aim of targeting the sister Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.