Saudi gunman tweeted against US before naval base shooting

An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Seaman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Seaman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Investigators are also trying to establish whether the killer, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone or was part of a larger plot.

Posted: Dec 8, 2019 10:44 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 trying to establish whether the killer, 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 rampage 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 J. Rojas, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Jacksonville.

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 foreign students at the Pensacola base have been accounted for, no arrests have been made, 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.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the investigation was proceeding under “the presumption that this was an act of terrorism”and he called for better vetting of foreigners allowed into the U.S. for training on American bases.

Speaking at a news conference Sunday afternoon, DeSantis also said the gunman had a social media trail and a “deep-seated hatred of the United States.”

He said he thought such an attack could have been prevented with better vetting.

“You have to take precautions” to protect the nation, DeSantis said.

“To have this individual be able to take out three of our sailors, to me that’s unacceptable,” the governor added.

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 used a Glock 9 mm weapon 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. and called it a “federal loophole.”

Republican DeSantis said he supports that 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 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.

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.

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.

Foreigners allowed into the U.S. for military training are subject to background checks to weed out security risks.

“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.”

Saudi Arabia’s government so far has not commented on a possible motive for the shooting, nor offered any information about the promised investigation.

Meanwhile, the daily Saudi newspaper Okaz published an interview with Othman Alshamrani, a man it described as an extended family member of the shooting suspect from his hometown in the kingdom’s Asir province. “This individual act does not represent us, nor his family nor his tribe,” the relative said, adding that the slain man was from a family with members who have well served their nation in military posts.

___

Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Lolita Baldor, Ben Fox, and Robert Burns in Washington; Jon Gambrell and Aya Batrawy in Dubai; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida; and Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.

Huntsville/Madison
Mostly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 53°
Muscle Shoals
Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 52°
Huntsville/Madison
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 53°
Decatur
Mostly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 52°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 53°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 436087

Reported Deaths: 6486
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63969994
Mobile31211565
Madison27851208
Tuscaloosa21233271
Montgomery19698326
Shelby19093130
Baldwin16981188
Lee13036105
Morgan12526134
Etowah11987179
Calhoun11441206
Marshall10357123
Houston8886158
Limestone827876
Cullman8203108
Elmore8120104
DeKalb7828103
Lauderdale7798103
St. Clair7763125
Talladega6394111
Walker6002177
Jackson594644
Colbert545276
Blount543986
Autauga532761
Coffee456762
Dale406883
Franklin372448
Russell349212
Chilton342873
Covington336068
Escambia330144
Dallas312096
Tallapoosa3120107
Chambers301170
Clarke293336
Pike261131
Marion251558
Lawrence250752
Winston232742
Bibb221248
Geneva208746
Marengo206529
Pickens199031
Hale182742
Barbour179337
Fayette177029
Butler172459
Cherokee164330
Henry158224
Monroe151320
Randolph144336
Washington140127
Clay129146
Crenshaw122944
Macon120937
Cleburne120724
Lamar119721
Lowndes113736
Wilcox106622
Bullock102228
Perry99118
Conecuh96821
Sumter90026
Greene76823
Coosa63215
Choctaw51724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 701847

Reported Deaths: 8777
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby779711168
Davidson72385688
Knox39701432
Hamilton35466337
Rutherford33860294
Unassigned23587134
Williamson21906144
Sumner18644232
Out of TN1615282
Montgomery14979149
Wilson14728164
Sullivan12893218
Blount12267132
Washington12102203
Maury11179128
Bradley1108895
Sevier10704120
Putnam10116151
Madison9273183
Robertson782687
Hamblen7172117
Anderson6947114
Greene6719115
Tipton632969
Gibson5733114
Coffee573282
Dickson552682
Cumberland550576
Bedford540391
Roane530081
Lawrence518869
Carter5171115
McMinn516774
Warren504454
Loudon503550
Jefferson490178
Dyer483386
Monroe467063
Hawkins455272
Franklin420065
Fayette408751
Obion404582
Rhea388457
Lincoln385546
Marshall353338
Cocke352758
Cheatham347331
Weakley344248
Henderson336559
Campbell334940
Giles330574
Carroll315860
White315144
Hardeman314054
Hardin304250
Lauderdale296933
Macon293251
Wayne267424
Henry266958
Overton258846
DeKalb246342
McNairy245442
Haywood243747
Smith234230
Marion233932
Trousdale230315
Scott228832
Hickman227835
Claiborne224932
Fentress215734
Grainger214339
Johnson204634
Morgan193916
Crockett182438
Chester177439
Bledsoe177011
Unicoi169545
Cannon160320
Lake157821
Decatur148628
Polk147817
Union143225
Grundy142622
Sequatchie140319
Humphreys136717
Benton133435
Lewis130121
Meigs117616
Stewart109620
Jackson105723
Perry95825
Clay95426
Houston94624
Moore8299
Pickett69020
Van Buren6737
Hancock4177

Community Events