Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a Saudi Air Force officer, was identified as the active shooter armed with a handgun who killed three people and wounded eight more at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, a military base sometimes called the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” Alshamrani was first named in a tweet from NBC News reporter Ken Dilanian.
On May 20, reports broke that the US government had found a link between Alshamrani and an al-Qaida operative.
The gunman has been identified by Florida’s governor as a Saudi national. “He was in the aviation pipeline. He was training in aviation,” the base commander said in a news conference. The Associated Press is now reporting that the “base shooter hosted dinner party to watch mass shooting videos night before fatal attack,” according to Fox 6 Phoenix. The New York Times reports that the shooter and three other “Saudi military trainees” had visited Rockefeller Center in New York City recently, as well as museums.
Authorities have not said whether they are considering the Pensacola shooting an act of terrorism; the AP reported that authorities are looking into whether that’s the case, though. ABC7 reported that authorities are trying to verify an “online screed” which rants about American mistreatment of Muslims and may have been penned by the shooter. It expresses “hatred toward Americans” and dismay at U.S. support for Israel, according to the television station. AFP reported that the online comment (which was in the form of a tweet, called the U.S a nation of evil.)
Asia Intel, a group that monitors Jihadist activity, has posted screenshots of a now-suspended Twitter page that it says may have belonged to the gunman; this is not confirmed, but the top tweet matches that described by ABC and AFP, which also reported, through a source, that the FBI is investigating social media posts as well as the suspect’s affiliations, including whether he had any accomplices. The group says the Twitter page in question quoted bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki.
Heavy has confirmed that Twitter suspended the account that may be the shooter’s; for hours people have been directing vitriol toward the page on Twitter, many of them in Arabic. “I’m sorry American people. This terrorist does not represent us,” wrote one person who responded. Rita Katz, director of the Site Intel Group, which monitors jihadist activity, wrote that the tweet that may be from Pensacola attacker Alshamrani “suggests terrorist motive. Does not claim allegiance to any group, but echos Bin Laden: ‘The security is a shared destiny…You will not be safe until we live it as reality in [Palestine], and American troops get out of our land.'”
The New York Times reported that six other Saudi nationals “were detained for questioning near the scene of the shooting, including three who were seen filming the entire incident.” It wasn’t clear whether they, too, were students or knew Alshamrani, according to The Times.
According to the base commander, who spoke at a news conference, the base hosts international students for flight training. NBC 6 South Florida gave the shooter’s name as Mohammed Saeed A Alshamrani, which is the name appearing on the above photo, which the station obtained and identified as the suspect. A wider version of the photo shows it appears to come from a military ID.
Four people are deceased (including the suspect), and more were wounded when the shooting broke out on December 6, 2019, according to the sheriff. Two deputies were shot, one in the arm and one in the leg, but they are expected to survive, officials told the media.
Two of the victims have been named: Mohammed Haitham and Joshua Watson. You can read about their lives here. The third victim has not yet been named.
“It covered two floors from that one building. It is a bit like a movie because you have spent shell casings all over,” said a sheriff’s commander during a press conference. AP reported the building was Building 633. The shooter fired randomly, but was thwarted from killing more people when someone barricaded a door, according to ABC7.
It was the second mass shooting at a military installation in the United States in one week. An active shooter named Gabriel Romero killed two people at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. Romero was a petty officer in the United States Navy.
It also came after a dramatic gunfight gripped the Miami area the day before when two robbers hijacked a UPS truck and then engaged in a shootout with police that left two innocent people dead.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he had spoken to the president. “This is a special place… all these brave warriors who wear the wings, they come here for flight training. This is a dark day for a very great place.” He said it “strikes at the heart of the community” – both Pensacola and the Navy overall.
“This day will be etched in your memory for the rest of your life,” Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said of the effect on families and the Naval community. But he said people could be proud of the Navy and community. “Thank God for the United States of America,” Morgan said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Alshamrani Was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force & the Florida Governor Says the Saudi Arabian Government Now Owes a ‘Debt’ to the Victims
DeSantis said there are “a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Forece, and then to be training on our soil and then to do this.” He said authorities are investigating to try to answer all of those questions.
“The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims, and I think they’re going to owe a debt here, given that this is one of their individuals.”
The governor said that “obviously when you have a foreign national involved, you know, particularly in that part of the world, the investigation is going to be different than if it was somebody from a local community.”
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott wrote on Twitter, “I’m very concerned that the shooter in Pensacola was a foreign national training on a US base. Today, I’m calling for a full review of the US military programs to train foreign nationals on American soil. We shouldn’t be providing military training to people who wish us harm.”
Scott continued: “Whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable, this was an act of terrorism. It’s clear that we need to take steps to ensure that any and all foreign nationals are scrutinized and vetted extensively before being embedded with our American men and women in uniform.”
According to the Associated Press, the suspect was “a Saudi aviation student.” CNN reported that the suspect was “a member of the Saudi Arabian military training at the station.” President Donald Trump tweeted that 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.”
Alshamrani was a “Saudi Air Force member,” NBC reported. The New York Times called him “Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.” Metro UK reported that Alshamrani “was in the US learning how to fly American aircraft sold to the Saudi Arabian army.”
WKG-TV reported that the shooter’s training began in 2017 and included English language lessons.
The active shooter situation at Naval Air Station in Pensacola broke out on the morning of December 6, 2019, but in an early statement on it, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that the gunman is now dead.
At 6:51 a.m., the call went out, according to the Escambia County Sheriff, who said he couldn’t release all details because the investigation was ongoing. “I want to assure our community that the threat has been negated. Our community is secure at this time,” he said. “This strikes home particularly hard for me as a retired military member. Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie. You just don’t expect this to happen at home.”
2. Officials Said the Mass Shooting Ignited in a Classroom Building & the Base Has Trained Foreign Aviators For Years, Including During World War II
The mass shooting started in a classroom building, building 633, authorities revealed in a press conference. Building 633 is the home of the Naval Aviation Schools Command. It is located at 181 Chambers Avenue. It’s most common for foreign military officers to come to the Pensacola base for training if they are from countries “to which the U.S. sells arms,” according to NBC News.
The commanding officer of the base, Capt. Timothy F. Kinsella Jr., said in the press conference that “we have an international training service” and there are students “from several different countries who come here. They learn aviation. They become Naval aviators while they’re here. It’s something we’ve been doing for quite a while. It’s with our partner nations. It’s important cross-pollination and cross training that we do with our Allies. It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. I mean World War II. We had Royal Air Force folks that were training here. There’s always been international students training here.”
Kinsella said in a news conference that “a couple hundred foreign students” are currently in the training program. “This has been a very, very difficult day for us and our families, the Navy family here,” he added. “I am absolutely in awe about the response by our sailors” and law enforcement. “There was real heroism. I couldn’t be prouder to wear the uniform I wear.”
He said that weapons are not authorized on the military base. “This is part of our training,” Kinsella said. “We train for active shooter scenarios regularly.” The conditions of the people in the hospital are not yet clear. However, at least three other people have died, not counting the suspect. In the news conference, authorities said that, although the shot deputies will be OK, other victims are in surgery and their prognosis is unclear.
“Like many other Saudi military personnel, I was trained in a U.S military base, and we used that valuable training to fight side by side with our American allies against terrorism and other threats,” wrote Saudi Vice Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman on Twitter.
“A large number of Saudi graduates of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola moved on to serve with their U.S counterparts in battlefronts around the world, helping to safeguard the regional and global security. Today’s tragic event is strongly condemned by everyone in #Saudi Arabia.”
You can listen to early scanner audio here. It starts around 19 minutes into the audio file.
“We have multiple patients at the front gate,” an officer says in the dispatch audio. The Escambia County Sheriff said in a news conference that, “while a dark day, folks this shows who we are. It shows the best of who we are. When one of us needs help, all of us respond.”
3. Three of the 9/11 Hijackers Gave Their Addresses as Being at Naval Air Station Pensacola; Alshamrani Acquired His Gun Locally, Reports Say
The New York Times reported that the gunman used a “locally purchased Glock 45 9-millimeter handgun with an extended magazine” and had more magazines in his possession. The shooter was involved in an Air Force military sales training course and the Saudi government was paying for it, according to The Associated Press.
In the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11, Newsweek reported that three of the hijackers had the addresses on their driver’s licenses listed as being at NAS Pensacola. The article notes that Naval Air Station Pensacola is known as the “Cradle of U.S. Navy Aviation.” Those three hijackers were all Saudi-nationals.
Altogether, 15 9/11 terrorists were Saudi nationals, according to CNN. In September 2019, according to BBC, the US Department of Justice said “it will reveal a key name sought by people suing Saudi Arabia for alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.” The 9/11 Commission didn’t find evidence that the Saudi Arabian government had funded al-Qaeda, BBC reported. But in 2012, it was revealed that a former Saudi consulate official and suspected Saudi intelligence officer were under investigation for involvement. A third person’s name was blacked out, and that’s the name being sought.
The Navy Times reported in February 2016 that NAS Pensacola officials had increased security measures at the base, after the base had been known as “unusually open” for years.
The Pensacola News Journal reported in September 2019 the “new, top-secret classrooms” had been built on the base to counteract the threat caused by cyber terrorism.
“Saddened to hear of the horrible shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola & continuing to monitor the situation. Praying for the victims & their families & we commend the first responders for their swift action in taking down the shooter & getting those on base to safety,” Vice President Mike Pence wrote on Twitter.
4. A Sheriff’s Deputy Killed Alshamrani & The Mass Shooting Comes 2 Days After 2 People Were Shot Dead at Pearl Harbor By a Member of the U.S. Navy
Two officers “negated the threat” and are in the hospital but expected to recover, according to the sheriff, who indicated that one of his officers took down the suspect.
“Active shooter is deceased,” the U.S. Navy also confirmed on Twitter. The shooter is “confirmed dead,” the Escambia County Sheriff wrote on its Facebook page. “The ECSO can confirm there is no longer an active shooter on NAS Pensacola.” The conditions of those wounded were not released.
The reports of a Pensacola active shooter came after an active shooter wounded three people, killing two of them, at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii. In that incident, Vincent Kapoi Jr. (above) was named as one of the deceased victims. A second victim was named as Roldan Agustin, a shipyard employee.
In the Pearl Harbor incident, Gabriel Romero was identified as the U.S. sailor who shot three Department of Defense civilian workers at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, killing two. Romero, 22, then shot himself. He was using his service weapon. He was an on-duty submariner who had faced disciplinary problems at work. You can read more about that incident here.
According to its website, NAS Pensacola, situated in Escambia County, “employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel. This includes major tenant commands: Naval Aviation Schools Command, Naval Air Technical Training Center, Marine Aviation Training Support Group 21 and 23, the Blue Angels, and the headquarters for Naval Education Training Command, a command which combines direction and control of all Navy education and training.”
“#BREAKING: We are aware of reports of a possible active shooter at Naval Air Station,” the U.S. Navy wrote on its Twitter page as news of the latest mass shooting broke out.
CNN called a dispatcher at the Naval Air Station and was told: “We have an active situation right now.” There was a massive law enforcement response. “I can confirm there is an active shooter on NAS Pensacola and it’s going on right now,” said Amber Southard, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, to CNN.
NorthEscambia.com reported that there was a World War II Remembrance ceremony planned for 10 a.m. at the National Naval Aviation Museum, although there’s no indication it’s related. The Tate High School Vocal Jazz and Wind Ensemble was supposed to perform but weren’t on the base yet when the mass shooting broke out, according to the news site.
5. Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz Has Called for the Shooting to Be Investigated as an Act of Terrorism
Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, who represents the district where NAS Pensacola is located, has called for the shooting to be investigated as an act of terror. Rep. Gaetz told CNN, “We can safely call this an act of terrorism, not an act of workplace violence.” The base’s commanding officer, Capt. Kinsella, has refused to say if the incident will be investigated as an act of terror.
There have been mass shootings before on military installations.
In 2009, there was a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 people dead and more than 30 wounded, according to The Army Times. Maj. Nidal Hasan was the shooter. He was an Army psychiatrist and was convicted in a 2013 court martial. CNN reported in 2014 that Hasan had allegedly written to ISIS asking to become an Islamic State citizen.
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