- The Washington Times
Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Pentagon has halted all operational training of Saudi Arabian military officers at U.S. bases in the wake of Friday’s shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola that claimed the lives of three sailors.

Training for Saudi nationals in programs at U.S. military facilities is now limited to classrooms only as the Pentagon conducts a wide-ranging review, a top Pentagon official told reporters Tuesday evening.

Members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction at U.S. facilities, and investigators are thought to be questioning other Saudi students about possible involvement in Friday’s attack.

The review will focus on policies and procedures for screening foreign students and granting access to U.S. bases, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said in a statement as he directed the secretaries of the armed forces to “take additional security measures as they see fit.”

The announcement comes after Saudi Royal Air Force 2nd Lt. Ahmed Mohammed al Shamrani, 21, killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight other people Friday, when he opened fire with a handgun during a class at the Pensacola base. He was shot dead by sheriff’s deputies who arrived on the scene.

The FBI has said that al Shamrani accused the U.S. of being anti-Muslim on Twitter before the attack and that the bureau is investigating the matter as an “act of terrorism.”

The official insisted that the U.S. will continue to partner with Saudi Arabia for defense purposes. The U.S. military has trained more than 28,000 Saudi students since the start of the security cooperation “without serious incident until now,” the official said.

“The operational pause only applies to Saudi students” and will last until Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper decides otherwise, the official said. The initial review will take about 5 to 10 days and will examine the current programs to analyze any “shortcomings.”

The Pentagon says it is conducting the review with full cooperation and understanding from Saudi Arabia, which has an estimated 850 officers at U.S. military training facilities, and has received support from Saudi military officials.

Although there is “no evidence to suggest a larger ring” of Saudi students who are planning another attack, the Pentagon official said that “one incident suggested that there could be a particular improvement with that population.”

Investigators are trying to determine whether the Saudi shooter had been radicalized and whether he acted on his own or as an operative of a group.

As of Tuesday, no terrorist organization had claimed responsibility for the shooting or al Shamrani as a member.

Other Saudi classmates of al Shamrani reportedly attended a recent party he hosted that featured videos of mass shootings, and one reportedly recorded all or part of Friday’s shooting on a cellphone. However, U.S. authorities said Tuesday that the cellphone recordings were “not nefarious.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that al Shamrani had felt insulted months ago by one of his Pensacola instructors. Authorities have not confirmed or denied the report.

In Washington, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican whose district includes the base, said the U.S. should consider suspending its training programs with Saudi Arabia.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, lashed out at what he called “loopholes” in federal gun laws that allowed al Shamrani to obtain his Glock handgun legally.

The announcement that the Pensacola attack is being treated as terrorism provides FBI investigators with more tools to examine al Shamrani’s background and movements.

Media reports have noted a since-deleted anti-American Twitter account on which al Shamrani ranted about a number of jihadist talking points, including U.S. support for Israel and American troops in the Middle East.

Hours before the rampage, a post on the account linked to al Shamrani contained a “will” of sorts that said “what I see from America is the supporting of Israel, which is invasion of Muslim countries. I see invasion of many countries by its troops. I see Guantanamo Bay.”

Authorities have identified the fatalities of Friday’s violence as Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Alabama; Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Georgia; and Airman Mohammed Hathraim, 19, of Florida.

Among the eight wounded were two Escambria County sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed al Shamrani.

Military personnel generally are not permitted to have loaded weapons on base.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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