FBI says it presumes base shooting was act of terrorism

  • FILE- In this Jan. 29, 2016 file photo shows the entrance to the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola, Fla. The US Navy is confirming that an active shooter and one other person are dead after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Area hospital representatives tell The Associated Press that at least 11 people were hospitalized. The base remains locked down amid a huge law enforcement response. (AP Photo/Melissa Nelson, File) Melissa Nelson

  • This photo taken from video provided by WEAR-TV shows emergency responders near the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. The US Navy is confirming that an active shooter and one other person are dead after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Area hospital representatives tell The Associated Press that at least 11 people were hospitalized. The base remains locked down amid a huge law enforcement response.  (WEAR-TV via AP)

  • A vehicle drives by a tribute to victims of the Naval Air Station Pensacola that was freshly painted on what’s known as Graffiti Bridge in downtown Pensacola, Fla., on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. A US official says the Saudi student who fatally shot three people at the Florida naval base had hosted a dinner party earlier in the week to watch videos of mass shootings. The official spoke on condition of anonymity after being briefed by federal investigators. The official says a second Saudi student was recording outside the building at the Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday while the shooting was happening inside. The official also says 10 Saudi students are being held at the base and that several others are unaccounted for.   (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington) Brendan Farrington

  • Navy Capt. Tim Kinsella briefs members of the media following a shooting at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. The US Navy is confirming that a shooter is dead and several injured after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. (Tony Giberson/Pensacola News Journal via AP) Tony Giberson

  • Police cars escort an ambulance after a shooter open fire inside the Pensacola Air Base, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 in Pensacola, Fla. The US Navy is confirming that a shooter is dead and several injured after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. (Tony Giberson/ Pensacola News Journal via AP) Tony Giberson

  • Police cars escort an ambulance after a shooter open fire inside the Pensacola Air Base, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 in Pensacola, Fla. The US Navy is confirming that a shooter is dead and several injured after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. (Tony Giberson/ Pensacola News Journal via AP) Tony Giberson

  • Police vehicles block the entrance to the Pensacola Air Base, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 in Pensacola, Fla. The US Navy is confirming that a shooter is dead and several injured after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. (Tony Giberson/ Pensacola News Journal via AP) Tony Giberson

  • A man reads the daily Al-Madina newspaper fronted by a picture of Saudi King Salman at a coffee shop in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. U.S. law enforcement officials were digging into the background of the suspected Florida naval station shooter Friday, to determine the Saudi Air Force officer's motive and whether it was connected to terrorism. Arabic reads "King Salman to Donald J. Trump: Florida shooter does not represent the Saudi people." (AP Photo/Amr Nabil) Amr Nabil

  • A man reads the daily Al-Madina newspaper fronted by a picture of Saudi King Salman at a coffee shop in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. U.S. law enforcement officials were digging into the background of the suspected Florida naval station shooter Friday, to determine the Saudi Air Force officer's motive and whether it was connected to terrorism. Arabic at top reads "King Salman to Donald J. Trump: the Florida shooter does not represent the Saudi people." (AP Photo/Amr Nabil) Amr Nabil

  • Saudi daily Al-Madina newspaper fronted by a picture of Saudi King Salman is displayed at a coffee shop in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. U.S. law enforcement officials were digging into the background of the suspected Florida naval station shooter Friday, to determine the Saudi Air Force officer's motive and whether it was connected to terrorism. Arabic reads "King Salman to Donald J. Trump: Florida shooter does not represent the Saudi people." (AP Photo/Amr Nabil) Amr Nabil

  • This undated photo provided by the FBI shows Mohammed Alshamrani. The Saudi student opened fire inside a classroom at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday before one of the deputies killed him. (FBI via AP)

  • This undated photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, from Coffee, Ala. Family members on Saturday identified one of the victims of a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., as Watson, a 23-year-old recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who alerted first responders to where the shooter was even after he had been shot several times. (U.S. Navy via AP) U.S. Navy Photo

  • This undated photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, from St. Petersburg, Fla. One of the victims of the shooting Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., has been identified as Haitham, 19, who joined the Navy after graduating from high school last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times. (U.S. Navy via AP) U.S. Navy Photo

Published: 12/8/2019 3:22:04 PM

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 working to establish whether the killer, identified as 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone. Alshamrani, who was killed in 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, work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism,” said Rachel L. Rojas, FBI agent in charge.

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, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Also, investigators 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, there have been no arrests, and the community is under no immediate threat, Rojas said at a news conference. 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 cooperate in this investigation,” Rojas said. “The Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with our investigation.”

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 9 mm weapon that had been purchased legally in Florida, Rojas said.

Family members and others identified the three dead as Joshua Kaleb Watson, a 23-year-old graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Fla., who joined the Navy after graduating from high school last year; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Ga.

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.

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.”


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