Pensacola shooting was an act of terrorism, attorney general says
By Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky
January 13, 2020 at 10:10 PM EST
Attorney General William P. Barr said Monday that the December shooting that killed three U.S. sailors on a Florida base was an act of terrorism, as officials revealed harrowing new details about the 15-minute rampage and publicly called out Apple Inc. to help them unlock the killer's phones.
At a news conference to discuss the results of the FBI's investigation into the shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Barr said investigators had found evidence that Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force member training at the base, was motivated by "jihadist ideology" and had posted anti-American messages on social media about two hours before his attack.
FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said that during the attack, Shamrani fired shots at pictures of President Trump and a past U.S. president, and witnesses at the scene said he made statements critical of American military actions overseas. Bowdich said that while Shamrani did not seem to be inspired by one specific terrorist group, he harbored anti-American and anti-Israeli views and felt "violence was necessary". Bowdich said the gunman's social media comments echoed those of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni American cleric tied to the terrorist group al-Qaeda who was killed in a drone strike in 2011.
In declaring the incident terrorism, Barr noted that on Sept. 11, Shamrani posted a message on social media saying, "The countdown has begun". Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Barr said, Shamrani visited the memorial in New York City to those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out those attacks were Saudis.
Barr said that while it was initially reported that Shamrani arrived to the shooting with others, who filmed it, those accounts turned out to be incorrect. The shooter, he said, arrived alone, though other cadets who happened to be in the area did film the ensuing commotion.
Bowdich said the incident lasted about 15 minutes, with authorities intervening to stop the attack after about eight minutes. Barr singled out sailor Ryan Blackwell, who he said - despite having been shot five times - jumped on top of a fellow service member to prevent her from being shot and helped others get to safety.
The gunman, who used a semiautomatic handgun he purchased legally via an exception that allows non-U.S. citizens with hunting licenses to do so, was fatally shot by a sheriffs deputy.
Bowdich said investigators had not found evidence that the shooter acted with anyone else - though officials said they had uncovered troubling conduct by other Saudi military members training in the United States. Justice Department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the diplomatically sensitive matter, said that while officials were confident Shamrani had no U.S.-based co-conspirator, they were still interested in potential interactions he might have had with those in Saudi Arabia.
Barr said investigators had found evidence that 17 Saudis had through social media shared jihadist or anti-American material and 15 - including some of those who had shared anti-American material - were found to have had contact with or possessed child pornography.
Barr said only one of those people had a significant number of images, and U.S. attorneys had reviewed each case and determined such people would not normally be charged with federal crimes. He said 21 cadets from Saudi Arabia had been disenrolled from their training and would be returning to the kingdom later Monday. Justice Department officials said 12 were from the Pensacola base, and nine were from other military bases.
Edited by BansheeOne, 14 January 2020 - 0715 AM.