Wednesday, February 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Call Shooting at Florida Military Base an Act of Terror

A shooting at a naval air station in Pensacola last month was an act of terrorism motivated by jihadist ideology, the Justice Department said Monday.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A shooting at a naval air station in Pensacola last month was an act of terrorism motivated by jihadist ideology, the Justice Department said Monday.

Attorney General William Barr presented findings of the investigation into the shooting at a press conference Monday afternoon, saying Mohammed Alshamrani – named by authorities as the Saudi Arabian cadet who left three dead Dec. 6. - had acted alone. Although initial reports of the attack stated other Saudi cadets had filmed Alshamrani’s rampage, Barr said those reports were unsubstantiated.

While the shooter had acted alone, 21 Saudi Arabian cadets on base for aviation training had been interviewed in relation to the shooting during initial investigative efforts. While the investigation did not implicate their training, Barr said some of these cadets had been found to be in possession of or had visited websites containing child pornography and anti-American rhetoric.

Saudi Arabia had pulled all of those cadets from the training curriculum, with the country saying this behavior was “unbecoming” of members of the Saudi military, Barr said.

“The relevant U.S. attorney’s offices independently reviewed each of the 21 cases involving derogatory information and determined that none of them would in the normal course result in federal prosecution,” the attorney general said. “The kingdom has assured me that it will review each of these cases under their code of military justice and their criminal code. The kingdom has also agreed that we will have full access to anyone we want to interview in Saudi Arabia and any documents relevant to our investigation.”

Alshamrani, 21, had a track record of posting defamatory remarks about the United States and Israel, Barr said. The cadet allegedly posted on Sept. 11, 2019, that “the countdown has begun.” He also posted other racist and jihadist-motivated content to social media accounts two hours prior to the attack, according to the attorney general.

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said during the press conference that the agency had interviewed more than 500 people during its investigation of the shooting — along with employing dozens of surveillance teams and cataloguing 42 terabytes of related data. No co-conspirators have been identified, he said.

The gun used in the shooting – a semiautomatic pistol with an extended magazine – had been purchased lawfully in July under a hunting license special exception, Bowdich said. Nonimmigrant visa holders are normally prohibited from buying a gun in the U.S.

The attack lasted about 15 minutes, with local and federal security forces taking control of the scene within eight minutes, Bowdich said. Alshamrani allegdly had nearly 180 rounds of ammunition along with replacement magazines.

U.S. intelligence is still attempting to decipher the contents of two Apple iPhones that were in Alshamrani’s possession during the attack. Barr said Monday that getting access to the phones was imperative to learning who the accused shooter had been communicating with prior to the attack.

“During the gunfight with the first responders, the shooter disengaged long enough to place one of his phones on the floor and shoot a single round into the device. It also appears the other phone was damaged,” Barr said. “Our experts at the FBI crime lab were able to fix both damaged phones so they are both operational. … We have asked Apple for help in unlocking the shooter’s phones. So far Apple has not given any substantive assistance.”

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.