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A Saudi flag flutters atop Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in an Oct. 22, 2018, file photo.

MURAD SEZER/Reuters

The United States on Tuesday barred from entering the country Mohammed al Otaibi, the former Saudi consul general in Istanbul in October 2018, when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed there, the U.S. State Department said.

“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a heinous, unacceptable crime,” the Department said in a statement, adding that it continued to urge the Saudi government to conduct a “full, fair and transparent” trial to hold accountable those responsible for the former Washington Post columnist’s death.

Khashoggi was a U.S. resident and a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found.

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The killing caused a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince’s image. The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, but Saudi officials say he had no role. Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial over his death in secretive proceedings in Riyadh.

But President Donald Trump has expressed doubts about the CIA assessment and argued that Washington must not risk its alliance with Riyadh, the cornerstone of U.S. security policy in the Gulf and regarded as a regional counterweight to Iran.

The United States has deployed additional American military forces to the kingdom to bolster its defences after the Sept. 14 attack on its oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran.

Many members of the U.S. Congress, however, have questioned the long-standing U.S.-Saudi security alliance and backed several efforts – which have failed so far – to stop Trump from selling arms to the kingdom without congressional approval or providing support to the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen.

Such worries have increased further after the Khashoggi killing.

“We will continue to seek all relevant facts, consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing,” the State Department said.

Otaibi previously was the subject of a U.S. asset freeze for his alleged role in Khashoggi’s death. The designation also bars his family members from entering the United States.

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