Florida senator calls for end to military exchange program in wake of Pensacola shooting

U.S. Senator Rick Scott speaks during a press conference at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, April 29, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

The Saudi national who killed three students on a U.S. Naval Air station in Pensacola was in the United States on a training exchange program.

On Sunday, Sen. Rick Scott said the United States should suspend that program, which brings foreign nationals to America for military training, pending a "full review."

"We cannot be taking risk for our sailors," Scott said during an interview Sunday morning on Fox News' "Fox & Friends" program. "The Saudi government has got to step up and say there will be full cooperation."

"We MUST make sure American men and women in uniform are safe. We need to suspend this program while we do a full review. And the Saudi government needs to step up and give full cooperation to American law enforcement," Scott tweeted on Sunday. The cooperation Scott referenced had to do with the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

On Friday, the gunman went on a rampage across the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, killing three and wounding eight. A sheriff's deputy eventually killed the shooter.

The victims were Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Ga.; Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Coffee County, Ala. and Mohammed Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that law enforcement officers are questioning several other Saudi nationals who are students in the training program. The Associated Press reported that the shooter hosted a dinner party for other students earlier in the week where he showed videos of mass shootings.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican whose congressional district includes Pensacola, said the shooting should "inform" America's ongoing relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' key military allies in the Middle East.

Gaetz said on ABC's "This Week" that he expects Saudi intelligence officials to help Americans track down anyone who helped finance or plan Friday's shooting.

"I was given every assurance by the Saudi ambassador that that would occur," Gaetz said.

The comments made by Scott and Gaetz struck a different tone than remarks offered by President Donald Trump since the shooting.

Rather than calling for action on the part of the Saudi government, Trump has remarked about how King Salman of Saudi Arabia has offered his condolences to the victims and their families.

"The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people," the president tweeted.

"....The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people," he added.

©2019 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) - Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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