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10 Dec, 2019 20:16

Nearly 175 Saudi aviation students grounded after Pensacola base shooting

Nearly 175 Saudi aviation students grounded after Pensacola base shooting

Some 175 Saudi Arabian military aviation students have been grounded in a “safety stand-down,” just days after Saudi Air Force lieutenant Mohammed Alshamrani shot and killed three sailors at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“A safety stand-down and operational pause commenced Monday for Saudi Arabian aviation students,” Navy spokeswoman Lieutenant Andriana Genualdi told Reuters on Tuesday, explaining that the grounding covered Naval Air Station Whiting Field and Naval Air Station Mayport in addition to Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Alshamrani, one of several hundred foreign aviation trainees at the Pensacola base, was killed in a shootout with Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies on Friday morning. Police were called to the facility at around 7am local time as the Saudi soldier killed three classmates with a handgun and wounded five more; two deputies were also hit in the shootout.

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No motive for the attack has yet been confirmed, though the FBI’s Joint Task Force is investigating the possibility of terrorism. Saudi Arabia trains many of its pilots at American facilities, and Alshamrani reportedly spent the night before the shooting at a dinner party with three other Saudi nationals, during which they watched footage of mass shootings. At least ten other Saudi nationals were detained for questioning after the shooting, including three who were seen filming the violence.

The FBI has asked the media to refrain from speculating about possible terrorist motives, but has presumed the shooting is an “act of terrorism” pending further discovery. Authorities are attempting to determine whether Alshamrani acted as part of a larger plot and whether social media posts made under his name were authored by him. Social media platforms have purged any and all discussion of the content, which reportedly included condemnation of American crimes against Muslims.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud called US President Donald Trump to expressly condemn the shooter’s actions, insisting that the attack “in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people, who love the Americans.” Florida Senator Rick Scott has called for a “full review” of US military programs that train foreign nationals at American bases, suggesting stricter vetting for the candidates. Alshamrani had trained at Pensacola since 2017, his schooling paid for by the Saudi government; his classwork included English language lessons and Air Force military sales training.

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