FBI Will Investigate Shooting At Pensacola Naval Base As Terrorism

Dec 8, 2019
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The FBI now says it is investigating the shooting Friday at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., as an act of terrorism. It's been confirmed that the gunman was a 21-year-old lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who opened fire in a classroom building on the base, killing three people and wounding eight others. The FBI says a number of other Saudis also on the base that day are cooperating with the investigation. NPR's Greg Allen has the latest from Pensacola.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The gunman, identified as Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani, was at the Naval Air Station for flight training. He was part of a group of trainees from Saudi Arabia, one of more than 100 nations whose military received training at U.S. facilities. For the first time, the FBI agent in charge of the Pensacola investigation, Rachel Rojas, said it may be terrorism.

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RACHEL ROJAS: We are, as we do in most active shooter investigations, work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism.

ALLEN: Other officials have been less guarded. Today, the president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said on CBS that reports he's seen suggests the gunman may have been radicalized.

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ROBERT O'BRIEN: That looks like terrorism. We'll have to see what the FBI investigation shows, what his motivations were. The Saudis have promised full cooperation with the investigation. We're going to take them at their word.

ALLEN: The FBI says a number of other Saudis are training at the Naval Air Station, including some who have close ties to the gunman. None have been detained, Rojas says. Under orders of their Saudi commander, they've been restricted to a portion of the base. And she says they're all cooperating with the investigation.

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ROJAS: Our main goal right now is to confirm whether he acted alone, or was he a part of a larger network? We currently assess there was one gunman who perpetrated this attack. And no arrests have been made in this case.

ALLEN: This was the FBI's most extensive briefing since taking over the investigation Friday. Rojas shared few details, saying she was concerned about misinformation but declined to go into specifics. Officials say they want to get the facts out to dispel rumors. Rojas addressed one rumor that's kept local law enforcement busy - worries that there could be another attack in Pensacola.

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ROJAS: As we have stated multiple times, our investigation has not led us to any information that indicates any credible threat to our community.

ALLEN: Rojas also said reports that authorities were still trying to locate Saudis who were training at the base were wrong.

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ROJAS: I can report that the FBI is working side by side with the U.S. Navy, and they have confirmed to us that they have 100% percent accountability on all international students from NAS Pensacola.

ALLEN: Rojas says the gun used in the shooting, a 9mm Glock, was purchased legally in Florida by the gunman but wouldn't give details. She also refused to discuss whether a Twitter account is connected with the shooter. A post on the account just before the shooting accused America with crimes against Muslims. Late yesterday, the Navy released the names of the three sailors killed in the shooting. They're 23-year-old Joshua Kaleb Watson from Alabama, a recent graduate of the Naval Academy, Mohammed Haitham from Florida, a 19-year-old in flight crew training, and 23-year-old Cameron Scott Walters from Georgia, an airman apprentice.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Pensacola. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.