Washington, 14 January 2020 (dpa/MIA) – US authorities will send home 21 Saudi military students after an investigation into a shooting attack carried out by a Saudi officer at a Navy base last month, US Attorney General Bill Barr said Monday.
The investigation found that 21-year-old Saudi airman Mohammed Alshamrani was motivated by “jihadist ideology” when he opened fire at a Navy base in north-west Florida, killing three people and injuring eight others. The shooter was killed in a gunfight.
“This was an act of terrorism,” Barr said during a press conference.
While authorities did not find evidence of “assistance or pre-knowledge” by Alshamrani’s fellow airman studying at the base, it did find that 17 members had “social media containing some jihadi or anti-American content.”
“There was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group,” Barr said of the students
Barr dispelled prior reports that some of Alshamrani’s colleagues were filming the attack as it took place.
Meanwhile 15 Saudi officers – with some overlap from the previous 17 – had “contact” with child pornography.
Most of the contact with pornography came from chat rooms posted by someone else or received over social media.
Barr said Saudi Arabia determined that the material possessed by the Saudi officers was “unbecoming” and the students were dis-enrolled from US military training.
The 21 officers will be sent back to Saudi Arabia on Monday, he added.
The attack in early December raised concerns about a possible lack of vetting in the US military’s training program for allied militaries.
Alshamrani had posted “anti-American, anti-Israeli, and jihadi messages” on social media Barr said, that were apparently not seen by US authorities.
On September 11 of last year Alshamrani posted that the “contdown has begun” and he visited the September 11 memorial in New York City in November.
He also posted similar extremist views on social media two hours before the attack, Barr said.
The incident underscored Washington’s sometimes rocky relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is a key US ally in the Middle East.
Alshamrani used a legally-purchased semi-automatic handgun to kill “unarmed victims in cold blood,” Barr said.
Trump has maintained tight relations with Riyadh, highlighting massive purchases of US weapons, despite international criticism of the kingdom’s war in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
“The Royal Saudi Air Force, which flies American-made aircraft, is an important military partner, and has long had a training relationship with us,” Barr said, praising the Gulf Kingdom’s “critical” assistance to FBI investigators.
Alshamrani also apparently sought to destroy his cellphone by firing a bullet through it during the attack Barr said.
The attorney general said the FBI crime lab was able to make the Apple iPhone operational along with another iPhone, however, they are unable to access the password-protected device, despite a court order.
“We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks,” Barr said.