Saudi Air Force Trainee Kills Three At Florida Naval Base
Questions linger after a shooting leaves three people and the shooter dead in an incident at one of the nation's largest Naval facilities.
A Saudi Air Force member killed three people at the Pensacola Naval Air Station yesterday, and it appears he wasn’t acting alone: (emphasis mine)
PENSACOLA, Fla. — A member of the Saudi Air Force armed with a handgun fatally shot three people and injured eight others on Friday morning during a bloody rampage in a classroom building at the prestigious Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., where he was training to become a pilot.
The authorities, led by the F.B.I., were investigating to determine the gunman’s motive and whether the shooting was an act of terrorism.
A United States military official identified the suspect, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the attack, as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. He was one of hundreds of military trainees at the base, which is considered the home of naval aviation.
Six other Saudi nationals were detained for questioning near the scene of the shooting, including three who were seen filming the entire incident, according to a person briefed on the initial stages of the investigation. A group that monitors online jihadist activity said that shortly before the shooting, a Twitter account with a name matching the gunman’s posted a “will” calling the United States a “nation of evil” and criticizing its support for Israel.
The gunman was using a locally purchased Glock 45 9-millimeter handgun with an extended magazine and had four to six other magazines in his possession when he was taken down by a sheriff’s deputy, the person familiar with the investigation said.
The shooting, the second at a Navy base this week, sent service members scrambling to lock the doors of their barracks or flee the base altogether.
The attack by a foreign national inside an American military installation raised questions about the vetting process for international students who are cleared by the Department of Defense and is likely to complicate military cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia at a time when relations with the kingdom are already tense.
The time of the attack likely coincided with morning muster and the start of daily classes. The classroom building would have been full of junior officers, including American student naval aviators and student naval flight officers.
It was not known whether the six Saudis detained were students in the classroom building, and there was no immediate indication that those filming the incident were connected to the gunman, according to the person familiar with the investigation.
The Twitter posting cited by the SITE intelligence group, which monitors jihadist activity, included three typed messages posted hours before Friday’s shooting. “Your decision-makers, the politicians, the lobbyists and the major corporations are the ones gaining from your foreign policy, and you are the ones paying the price for it,” it said. SITE said the posting quoted the former Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.
Law enforcement officials did not confirm the authenticity of the account.
The gunman was believed to be enrolled in the base’s Aviation Preflight Indoctrination program. Students in the training hail from countries such as France, Italy and Norway, in addition to Saudi Arabia, which began sending trainees to the base in 1995. The Saudis usually train to fly either helicopters or F-15s, according to a Navy pilot familiar with the program. There are often a couple of foreign students in a class of 15 or so; Americans and Saudis go through their initial training together before branching off for separate training programs.
Due to the fact that there is still much to investigate in connection with this shooting both in the United States and Saudi Arabia, ;law enforcement is not yet calling this an act of terrorism. However, if it is the case that the shooter was not acting alone then that would seem to be strong evidence in favor of the proposition that there was some kind of terror-based motivation in this attacked. The same is not true about the attack at a facility near Pearl Harbor earlier this week, which appears to be a workplace violence incident not motivated by religion or any other motive. Of course, with the suspect in the Pensacola shooting dead the investigation will likely be somewhat more difficult, but if the stories about social media postings are accurate then it may end up being an easy determination to make.
Among the other questions that this attack raises, of course, is where the shooter got his weapon, a Glock handgun with an extended magazine. As a general rule foreign nationals who are not Resident Aliens cannot legally purchase weapons in the United States. Additionally, the only people generally allowed access to weapons on a military base are security personnel and others who require access to weapons as part of their assigned duties. A foreign military trainee would not be one of those with authorized access to base weapons. All of this raises the question of where the shooter got his weapon and, if it was purchased off base, how he got it onto the base without scrutiny.
This incident isn’t the first shooting on an American military base, of course. Back in 2009, a Palestinian-American doctor who was an Army Major and psychiatrist shot and killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in an attack that was later deemed to be motivated by the shooter’s opposition to American military attacks in the Middle East. Four years later in 2013, an employee at the Washington Navy Yard shot and killed 12 people and injured three others. In that case, it was later discovered that the shooter had a history of mental health issues and a troubled work history. Most recently, of course, there was the aforementioned attack at the base at Pearl Harbor that resulted in two people being killed. If nothing else, this would seem to put the lie to the idea that having people with guns in the area would deter mass shootings.
Photo via Associated Press