FBI says it presumes naval base shooting was act of terrorism
Saudi naval officer used legally purchased Glock 45 9-millimetre handgun
The Saudi gunman who killed three people at the Pensacola naval base had apparently gone on Twitter shortly before the shooting to blast U.S. support of Israel and accuse America of being anti-Muslim, a U.S. official said Sunday as the FBI confirmed it is operating on the assumption the attack was an act of terrorism.
Investigators are also trying to establish whether the killer, identified as 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone or was part of a larger plot. Alshamrani, who was killed by a sheriff's deputy during the attack at a classroom building Friday, was undergoing flight training at Pensacola, where members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction.
"We are, as we do in most active-shooter investigations, working with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism," Rachel L. Rojas, FBI agent in charge, said Sunday during a news conference.
Authorities believe the gunman made social media posts criticizing the U.S. under a user handle similar to his name, but federal law enforcement officials are investigating whether he authored the words or just posted them, a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly told The Associated Press on Sunday on condition of anonymity.
Investigators also believe the gunman visited New York City, including Rockefeller Center, days before the shooting and are working to determine the purpose of the trip, the official said.
All international students at the Pensacola base have been accounted for, no arrests have been made, and the community is under no immediate threat, Rojas said. A Saudi commanding officer has ordered all students from the country to remain at one location at the base, authorities said.
"There are a number of Saudi students who are close to the shooter and continue to co-operate in this investigation," Rojas said. "The Saudi government has pledged to fully co-operate with our investigation."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called for better vetting of foreigners allowed into the U.S. for training on American bases. He said the gunman had a "deep-seated hatred of the United States."
"My view is that for us to be bringing in these foreign nationals, you have to take precautions to protect the country," the governor said. He added: "To have them take out of three of our sailors, to me that's unacceptable, and I think that could have been prevented."
Earlier in the week of the shooting, Alshamrani hosted a dinner party where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings, another U.S. official told the AP on Saturday.
Alshamrani wounded two sheriff's deputies, one in the arm and one in the knee, before one of them killed him. Eight others were also hurt. Both deputies were expected to survive.
Alshamrani used a Glock 45 9-millimetre handgun that had been purchased legally in Florida, Rojas said.
DeSantis questioned whether foreigners should continue to be allowed under federal law to buy guns in the U.S.
The Republican said he supports the Second Amendment but that it "does not apply to Saudi Arabians."
Family members and others identified the three dead as Joshua Kaleb Watson, a 23-year-old recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who joined the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school last year; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia.
DeSantis said that as they lay dying, the victims pointed first responders in the direction of the shooter.
The official who spoke Saturday said one of the three students who attended the dinner party hosted by the attacker recorded video outside the classroom building while the shooting was taking place. Two other Saudi students watched from a car, the official said.
In a statement, the FBI confirmed Sunday that it had obtained base surveillance videos as well as cellphone footage taken by a bystander outside the building, and had also interviewed that person.
Rojas would not directly answer when asked whether other students knew about the attack beforehand or whether there was anything "nefarious" about the making of the video. She said that a lot of information needs to be confirmed by investigators and that she did not want to contribute to "misinformation" circulating about the case.
Rojas said federal authorities are focused on questioning the gunman's friends, classmates and other associates. "Our main goal is to confirm if he acted alone or was he part of a larger network," she said.
Robust training program for Saudis
President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said on CBS Face the Nation that the shooting looked like "terrorism or akin to terrorism." But he cautioned that the FBI was still investigating.
"Look, to me it appears to be a terrorist attack," he said. "I don't want prejudge the investigation, but it appears that this may be someone that was radicalized." O'Brien said he did not see evidence so far of a "broader plot."
The U.S. has long had a robust training program for Saudis, providing assistance in the U.S. and in the kingdom. More than 850 Saudis are in the United States for various training activities. They are among more than 5,000 foreign students from 153 countries in the U.S. going through military training.
"This has been done for many decades," Trump said on Saturday. "I guess we're going to have to look into the whole procedure. We'll start that immediately."
The navy on Saturday hailed the three victims as heroes for trying to stop the shooter and flagging down first responders after being shot.
"The sailors that lost their lives in the line of duty showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil," Capt. Tim Kinsella, the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola, said in a statement. "When confronted, they didn't run from danger; they ran toward it and saved lives."
The shooting is the second at a U.S. naval base in one week. A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.
With files from CBC News
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