In the aftermath of the December 10 shooting at Pensacola Naval Air Station by a member of the Saudi Air Force, who killed three U.S. sailors, 21 other Saudis are being sent home.
The students being expelled were neither charged with abetting the crime nor with being involved with terrorism. They did, however, have “derogatory material” on their computers, mainly child pornography and anti-U.S. media.
Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he began shooting at the U.S. base where he was undergoing flight training, FBI investigators discovered. Alshamrani was eventually killed by a sheriff’s deputy.
In the immediate aftermath of the deadly shooting, Senator Rick Scott, (R-Florida) said that the United States needs to review the procedures under which foreign students are admitted to the U.S. for training. Currently, there are nearly 5,000 foreign military students from over 150 countries receiving training in the United States.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that while the shooter was“motivated by jihadist ideology” and that the attack “was an act of terrorism,” there “was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group.”
“Social media attributed to the shooter suggests that he harbored anti-U.S. military and anti-Israel sentiments,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said. “[He] thought violence was necessary to defend Muslim countries.”
FBI investigators have struggled to unlock the shooter’s phone to see who he contacted prior to the shooting and have asked Apple to help in unlocking his data from the “WhatsApp” and “Signal” apps. Thus far, the computer giant has refused to help. Apple has said it would not assist the Justice Department by turning over private information from the gunman’s phones.
Following the shooting, the U.S. suspended all training for Saudi nationals while an investigation was conducted into this deadly act. On December 19, the Pentagon announced that there was no credible threat from the other 850 Saudi military students training in the U.S.
AG Barr did say the investigation showed that “We did learn of derogatory material possessed by 21 members of the Saudi military who were training in the United States; 17 had social media containing some jihadi or some anti-American content.”
And 15 Saudis, including some of the same Saudis listed above, “had some kind of contact with child pornography,” Barr said. “While one of these individuals had a significant number of such images, all the rest had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room posted by some other person or received through social media.”
Barr added that the government of Saudi Arabia cooperated fully with the investigation and that they “determined that [that] material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force and in the Royal Navy. The 21 cadets have been disenrolled from their training curriculum in the U.S. military and will be returning to Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia has been a close United States ally in the region for several decades and the cooperation between the two has been in place through the Gulf War, the Global War on Terrorism and the recent civil war in Yemen. Both the U.S. and the Saudis are intent on stopping the increased moves by Iran to gain power in the region.
The Saudi Embassy stated the following: “The close cooperation between the two nations on intelligence matters [and] counter-terrorism has saved the lives of many in the U.S., KSA and elsewhere, making the world a safer place. Over 28,000 Saudis have undergone military training in the U.S. over several decades without incident.”
“The disturbed and radicalized individual who carried out this terrible attack acted alone,” the statement continued. “He does not represent the hundreds of thousands of Saudis who have lived, studied and trained in the United States over the past several decades, nor does his heinous act represent the values of Saudi Arabia.”
This latest incident, while embarrassing for both countries, isn’t expected to be a roadblock in any future ties between the two countries. However, the pause in training for Saudi students remains in place until the U.S. updates its security procedures.