Florida base shooting was ′act of terrorism′ | News | DW | 08.12.2019
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Florida base shooting was 'act of terrorism'

The FBI says it is treating a naval base shooting in Florida, in which a Saudi airman killed three people, as an act of terrorism. There are also reports that the shooter traveled to New York ahead of the attack.

US federal agents are questioning Saudi students who were training at a naval air base in Pensacola, Florida, after 21-year-old Mohammed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, opened fire in a classroom with a Model 45 Glock handgun on Friday, killing three aviation students and wounding eight others, before being shot dead in a gunfight.

Alshamrani was undergoing training at the base, FBI Special Agent Rachel Rojas said at a press conference Sunday. "We are, as we do in most active-shooter investigations, working with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism."

But several questions still swirl around Alshamarani's motivation and whether the gunman, who used a legally purchased handgun, was acting in concert with others. Speculation has been focused on a number of Alshamrani's fellow Saudi classmates who allegedly filmed the attack.

"Our main goal is to confirm whether he acted alone or was he part of a larger network," Rojas said, adding that no arrests have been made in the case. The FBI is "working tirelessly to discern any possible ideology that may have been a factor in this attack," she said.

"Some, one or two, were filming it," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a interview with Fox News on Sunday. "What's unclear was were they filming before it began or is it something where they picked up their phones and filmed it once they saw it unfolding."

Training Saudi soldiers

An official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity that authorities believe the gunman made social media posts criticizing the US under a user handle similar to his name, but federal law enforcement officials are investigating whether he authored the words or just posted them.

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. Rojas declined to comment on those reports.  

The official also said the gunman visited New York City, including Rockefeller Center, days before the shooting and that investigators are trying to determine the purpose of the trip,

Rojas said that a number of Saudis studying at the naval base were "close to the shooter" and they are currently restricted to the base by their Saudi commanders, who are cooperating with the investigation.

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, Florida, who joined the Navy after graduating from high school last year; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia.

Over 5,000 foreign nationals are receiving military training in the US, part of a program with US allies that is now under review by the Pentagon.

"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."

bk/bw (dpa, AP)

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