A Saudi national opened fire on a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola (Florida), killing three people before he was shot to death by sheriff’s deputies in the second fatal shooting at a U.S. military installation this week.
U.S. and Saudi government officials identified the gunman as Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, who had been receiving aviation training at the base, the Washington Post said adding: Investigators are also working to determine what, if anything, Shamrani’s fellow students knew about his intentions.
Pentagon officials were quoted by the Washington Post as saying that Shamrani’s training with the U.S. military began in August 2016, and was scheduled to finish in August 2020.
Eight other people were injured in the shootout, including two Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies who exchanged gunfire with the shooter. The shooting took place over two floors in a classroom, the sheriff said.
Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican whose congressional district includes Pensacola, said that he was convinced, based on what he had been told at the scene, that the shooting was a terrorist act, although he declined to say what led him to that belief.
“We can safely call this an act of terrorism, not an act of workplace violence,” he told WEAR, a local television station. And Senator Rick Scott of Florida, also a Republican, said the attack should be considered terrorism, regardless of the gunman’s motivation.
The Pensacola naval base has long hosted international students from United States allies for flight training, including high-ranking Saudi officials. A “couple hundred” foreign students are enrolled in the program, according to Captain Timothy Kinsella Jr., the base commander.
Shamrani’s Twitter postings
The Washington Post reported that Late Friday, several independent organizations published postings from a Twitter account said to belong to Shamrani. The postings, under the handle @M7MD_SHAMRANI, included a photo image of a letter in English apparently written a few hours before the shooting rampage.
Twitter suspended the account Friday afternoon.
Excerpts of the Twitter postings were published by SITE Intelligence Group and the Middle East Media Research Institute, two U.S. organizations that track extremist groups’ online propaganda.
In the letter, the writer blasts the United States for “funding crimes against Muslims” and supporting Israel. “You will not be safe until we live it as reality in [Palestine], and American troops get out of our land,” he writes.
The letter does not contain an explicit pledge of support for any group, but the contents echo views expressed by al-Qaida as well as extremist clerics in the Persian Gulf, analysts said. The account profile lists the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations as among the accounts followed.
The posting, if authenticated, “suggests terrorist motive” and “echos Bin Laden,” SITE Director Rita Katz said in a Twitter posting.
President Trump spoke with the Saudi king about the shooting.
King Salman Ben Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia called President Donald Trump to offer his condolences and share that Saudis are infuriated by the shooting, President Trump said.
“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter,” President Trump wrote on Twitter, adding that King Salman also said the gunman does not represent the feelings of Saudis.
In a statement, the Saudi embassy in Washington said King Salman had directed the kingdom’s security services to cooperate with their American counterparts “to uncover information that will help determine the cause of this horrific attack.”
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, traveled to Pensacola on Friday afternoon. He suggested the government of Saudi Arabia might need to compensate the families of the shooting victims.
“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,” he said.
The shooting was the second this week at a Navy base.
The first, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Oahu on Wednesday, came as that installation was preparing for the 78th anniversary on Dec. 7 of the Japanese attack that marked the United States’ entry into World War II.
A United States sailor opened fire at a dry dock at the base, the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, fatally shooting two shipyard workers and injuring another before killing himself, the authorities said.
The shooter was identified as Gabriel Antonio Romero of Texas. The motive for the shooting is not yet known.
Romero was assigned to the U.S.S. Columbia, a submarine docked at the shipyard for maintenance, Rear Adm. Robert B. Chadwick II, commander for the Navy in Hawaii, said.