Authorities Locate Missing Saudi Nationals Linked To Pensacola Terror Attack
Pensacola, FL – U.S. federal officials have confirmed that the Saudi nationals linked to the terrorist attack at a U.S. naval base in Florida have been detained, but no arrests have been made at this time.
“We work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism,” Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Rachel Rojas said during a press conference on Sunday, according to USA Today.
During an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien also said that the mass shooting “appears to be a terrorist attack,” and that the FBI is working to determine whether or not that assessment is correct.
“It appears that this may be someone that was radicalized,” O’Brien said. “It’s unclear if he’s got ties to any other organizations…this is a guy who may very well have said some things on Twitter that suggest he was radicalized. He went out and killed a number of Americans, so my point is, it looks like terrorism.”
Three people were murdered and eight more victims were wounded when 21-year-old Saudi Arabia aviation student Mohammed Alshamrani opened fire inside a classroom at the Naval Aviation Schools Command shortly before 6:50 a.m., USA Today reported.
Alshamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant, was armed with a 9mm Glock handgun with multiple extra magazines.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said that deputies were dispatched to the scene at 6:51 a.m., and the first two deputies arrived within minutes, with many more who followed.
Deputies confronted the gunman inside a classroom, where a shootout ensued, Sheriff Morgan said.
Two Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) deputies were shot during the exchange of gunfire.
One deputy was struck in the knee, and the second deputy was hit in the arm.
A Navy police officer was also among the wounded, ECSO Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said on Sunday, according to CNN.
The deputies and the Navy police officer are all expected to recover.
The gunman was fatally shot by one of the wounded deputies at approximately 7:45 a.m., WEAR reported.
A total of 11 victims were wounded during the attack, The New York Times reported.
The three Navy sailors who were killed in the attack have been identified as Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, and Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, according to CNN.
“My youngest brother gave his life for his country in a senseless shooting,” Ensign Watson’s brother, Adam, wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. “Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own. After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable.”
“He died a hero and we are beyond proud but there is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled,” Adam wrote.
Navy Airman Ryan Blackwell said that he was inside a classroom on the first floor when he heard the gunman open fire out in the hallway, The New York Times reported.
He and his coworkers quickly closed the door and took cover, but Alshamrani began firing through the door.
Airman Blackwell was shot in his pelvis and right arm as he was shielding a female colleague with his body, he said.
Two other airmen in the office were also wounded in the attack.
Everyone inside the office – including Airman Blackwell – managed to escape the building through a window, The New York Times reported.
“We could have been three more casualties if we didn’t escape,” he said.
Details regarding the other wounded victims were not immediately available, CNN reported.
According to CNN, a source reported that Alshamrani had obtained a hunting license, which enabled him to legally purchase a firearm in the U.S.
He reportedly purchased the handgun earlier this year. He had been training at the base for the past two years.
On Sunday, SAC Rojas said that the "investigation has not led us to any information that indicated any credible threat to our community,” and that Alshamrani was the sole shooter involved in the attack, USA Today reported.
SAC Rojas refused to comment when questioned about reports that Alshamrani and three other students had traveled to New York City to visit various tourist sites just days before the NAS attack.
According to CNN, the Saudis who went to New York with the gunman are cooperating with investigators.
A number of other Saudi nationals have also been detained for questioning, a source told CNN.
SAC Rojas refused to confirm reports that Alshamrani recently hosted a dinner party where his guests watched videos of prior mass shootings, USA Today reported.
One of the students who went to the party later recorded video footage outside the building as the attack was underway while two other Saudi students watched the scene from a vehicle, according to USA Today.
“I said it was terrorism because it was a premeditated terrorist attack and more than one person was involved,” U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz told The New York Times. “The filming and potential attempts at publication show that this was an attack intended for theatrical effect to terrorize. It is the definition of terrorism.”
Minutes before the shooting, a Twitter user alleged to be Alshamrani posted a message professing his hatred of Americans because of their supposed “crimes” against Muslims, CNN reported.
Twitter later suspended the account, and law enforcement has refused to comment about the message or the account.
There are currently 5,181 foreign students from 153 countries who are participating in various Department of Defense training programs throughout the U.S., The New York Times reported.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump said that the federal government will begin looking into the vetting procedure for foreign military trainees immediately.
Trump said he received a phone call from Saudi Arabia's King Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of the attack, according to the Washington Examiner.
"King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida," Trump said.
"The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people," the President added.
He noted that King Salman “will be involved in taking care of” the families and loved ones of those wounded in the attack, The New York Times reported.