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

FILED UNDER: General
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. 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.

    Indeed.

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  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    Back in 2009, a Saudi-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.

    1. Nidal Hasan’s parents were Palestinian, not Saudi
    2. More importantly, Nidal Hasan himself was born and raised entirely in the US

    This is exactly the sort of “non-whites aren’t really American” dog-whistling one would expect of the Trump administration and is disappointing to see from you, Doug.

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  3. @Stormy Dragon:

    1. Corrected. My mistake

    2. What exactly did I say in the post that is incorrect?

  4. Mikey says:

    how he got it onto the base without scrutiny

    If he had been granted base access, which as a student he would have had, neither he nor his car would have been stopped at the gate any longer than it took to show the gate guard his ID. Cars and people with base access aren’t searched.

    And I’ve no doubt that in Florida (or Alabama or Mississippi, both of which are short drives from Pensacola), he’d have no problem paying cash for a handgun. Certainly, the complete lack of adequate checks on private sales would have enabled him in this apparent act of terrorism.

  5. Teve says:

    I’ve been on that base for a previous job. I showed him my drivers license at the gate, that was it.

  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You’re treating a native-born US citizen’s ethnic origin as being equivalent to a resident alien’s active citizenship to another nation. The issue of radicalization of American citizens has little to do with a potential foreign conspiracy, and drawing a connection between the two is subtextually a “dual loyalty” argument.

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  7. @Stormy Dragon:

    The Fort Hood murderer’s court-martial established beyond a reasonable doubt his motive for the attack. Your accusation of bias is nonsense. And I don’t see what is wrong with making note of his ethnicity.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    I don’t hear the dog whistle. Saudi is not a race, it’s a nationality. 15 of the 19 911 hijackers were Saudi, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered on orders from Saudi ruler, MBS, and now this. Saudi Arabia is also carrying out a war of annihilation in Yemen, sending their pampered little princelings in US-made jets to drop US-made bombs on the hospitals and schools of people who’ve done us no harm.

    The Saudis, driven by greed and contempt, minds full of Salafist fanaticism, are an evil force in the world.

    It goes without saying that Trump bowed to the Saudi king, stroked his orb, lied to cover up for MBS and will do all he can to obscure any connection between this guy and the Saudis who fill his hotel and funnel cash to him.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    None of which has anything to do with native-born US citizens who happen to have ancestors from Saudi Arabia. I’m not arguing against reconsidering our relationship with the country of Saudia Arabia. That’s something long overdue.

    The problem is when someone extends that to suggesting AMERICANS of Saudi extraction are somehow inherently untrustworthy because of their national origin.

  10. @Michael Reynolds:

    I believe Stormy is talking about my reference to the Fort Hood shooter.

  11. CSK says:

    Trump will keep as quiet as possible about this so as not to jeopardize Jared Kushner’s relationship with MBS.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @Stormy Dragon:
    Ah. I kind of glossed over Nadal. On consideration I don’t think Nidal’s ethnicity is important.

  13. CSK says:

    This is bizarre: According to the AP, the shooter gave a dinner party the night before the shootings so he and his guests could watch videos of mass shootings. Another videotaped the shootings the following day.

    Ten Saudis have been taken into custody. Several others are “unaccounted for.” This seems not to have been perpetrated by a lone wolf.

  14. JKB says:

    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.

    On a military base, the armed security are at the gate and otherwise no more “in the area” than your average police officer on the street in NYC, or the US Capitol. Unless there is something under high security, such an armory, or classified warehouse. A school area would probably seldom see an armed security patrol outside of a specific call, during the day.

  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:
    At minimum, there were a number of individuals who were aware that the crime would be committed, even if they did not assist in the planning/execution.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And I don’t see what is wrong with making note of his ethnicity.

    1. Is the ethnicity important?
    2. Have you singled him out (from all the other base shooters) because of his ethnicity?

    The ethnicity is only important if you are going to say that he was radicalized more easily because of his ethnicity (a plausible claim, given his history), and you were mentioning the motives of the other shooters (you are).

    And, you’re not singling him out, he just happens to come first in chronological order, so he seems more prominent.

    I think you’re in the clear, but I can see why someone would immediately question it because of the prominence in that list. If you used reverse chronological order, or found another incident before him, it wouldn’t be noticed.

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  17. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog: That would be my guess: accessories before the fact. I also wonder where the “unaccounted for” individuals have fled.

  18. Slugger says:

    I would like to see a complete, thorough, and dispassionate investigation of this crime. In view of the multiple flights from justice by Saudi citizens, I don’t think that holding them without bail would violate the eighth amendment.

  19. @JKB: I figured this was coming.

    On the one had, yes, most folks on a military based are not armed. On the other hand, unlike say an elementary school, it is full of people trained in combat, including unarmed combat.

    If US military personnel can’t step up and be action movie heroes in these situations, why do people often act like kindergarten teachers, university students, or others should be able to do so?

    Maybe the main problem remains that guns are way too easy to get.

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  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug, @Steven L. Taylor: JKB has it right. Outside of MPs/SPs and private security, guns are kept under lock and key on bases. ALL vehicles are subject to searches with or without base passes, but those with base passes are less likely to be searched. Even at that, in my decade plus of working Fort Lost in the Woods I was only searched once, and I only needed to get a pass the first year or 2 I worked there. For some reason or other they did away with the requirement for civilians after ’04 or there abouts.

    ETA and @Steven L. Taylor: you get there. It is really very easy to bring contraband of all kinds on to a base. The volumes of traffic are just too much.

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  21. Mister Bluster says:

    When I worked at Fort Leonard Wood in the early 90s I was a contractor for the United Telephone Company of Missouri. I was never issued a pass. Drove my personal truck that I used on the job in and out of the gate all day long. There might have been a gate house but I was never stopped for inspection or to present ID.
    I have no idea what it’s like today.

  22. @OzarkHillbilly: I acknowledge everything you are saying. While I have never served in the military, I find myself on a military base for professional reasons on a regular basis.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mikey: Wait! Are you telling me that loyal ‘Murkan gun shop/[edit:]private party owners–who love their country and their right to preserve their freedom by arming themselves against foreign invaders–would sell a gun to a foreigner just because he has cash to pay for it? OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. @Mister Bluster: Post-9/11 is has gotten less free than that.

  25. @Gustopher:

    So it is also racist that I identified the Pensacola shooter as Saudi Arabian?

    As for Major Hasan, pointing out his ethnicity is indeed relevant given his motivation for the attack, which he admitted to under questioning and during the trial.

    I reject your claim of bias on my part and will not address it any further.

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: What I wonder, actually I don’t, is how they ignore the fact that on military bases guns are regulated to a much higher extent (no carry, open or otherwise, no possession in housing, all personal firearms locked up in base facilities, etc etc). These are the people for whom firearms are the tools of the trade. It’s almost like they know something.

    @Mister Bluster: I started working at FLW in ’03/04. was there until app 2015. Security was never all that much and it got even more lax as time went on. I know that since I stopped working there it has tightened up a little bit, but from what I hear, not by much.

  27. An Interested Party says:

    We are told that Saudi Arabia is our ally and Iran is our enemy and yet, we see another possible terrorist attack committed by someone with Saudi, and not Iranian, connections…

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: They DO know something–that you can’t trust people to make wise and prudent choices 100% of the time.

  29. Mikey says:

    A good analysis of Trump’s softness on Saudi Arabia:

    For Trump, Instinct After Florida Killings Is Simple: Protect Saudis

    On Saturday, leaving the White House for a trip here for a Republican fund-raiser and a speech on Israeli-American relations, Mr. Trump told reporters that “they are devastated in Saudi Arabia,” noting that “the king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones.” He never used the word “terrorism.”

    What was missing was any assurance that the Saudis would aid in the investigation, help identify the suspect’s motives, or answer the many questions about the vetting process for a coveted slot at one of the country’s premier schools for training allied officers. Or, more broadly, why the United States continues to train members of the Saudi military even as that same military faces credible accusations of repeated human rights abuses in Yemen, including the dropping of munitions that maximize civilian casualties.

  30. Hal_10000 says:

    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.

    Not sure I understand this point. First of all, guns are strictly controlled on a military base. But moreover, the claim is that these would end mass shootings before they became more deadly which is … exactly what happened here. A mass shooter killed three people before a “good guy with a gun” took him out. We are constantly told that ten million people need to give up their assault weapons, even to the point of having police knocking on doors, because it mighty slightly reduce the deadliness of mass shootings. Almost every mass shooting we’ve had has only been ended when the killer was himself shot. Maybe it’s not as clearcut as the NRA would like it pretend it is, but it is relevant, no?

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  31. CSK says:

    It seems that Trump went into that weird rant about having to flush his toilet 10-15 times to get off the subject of the Pensacola shooting. As I said, he’ll do anything to preserve Jared’s and his own relationship with the Saudis.

    Cult45 is strangely cognitively dissonant about this. They hate the Saudis and worship Trump. Trump worships the Saudis.

  32. Gustopher says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Maybe it’s not as clearcut as the NRA would like it pretend it is, but it is relevant, no?

    At this point, there is no way to claw back all the weapons of mass murder that have been sold, at least until the mass murderers have mass murdered.

    I do think we should limit the production and sales of weapons designed to kill a whole lot of people at once, and hope that collectors reduce the number in active circulation.

    You might have ten guns that can kill a dozen people in less than a minute, but you only have two hands… that’s a man (and it’s always a man) who needs guns eleven and twelve. Effectively harmless.

  33. CSK says:

    Apparently the shooter was able to buy the gun legally because he had a hunting license.