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Naval base shooter investigated for possible terrorism links

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Naval base shooter investigated for possible terrorism links

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US officials investigating the deadly attack of a Saudi aviation student at a Florida naval air station were working on Saturday to determine if this was motivated by terrorism.

A Saudi aviation student opened fire in a classroom at Pensacola Naval Air Station Friday morning, killing three people. The attack, which triggered a massive police response and blockade of the base, ended when a sheriff's police officer killed the attacker. Eight people were injured in the attack, including the deputy and a second deputy who was with him.

Family members on Saturday identified one of the victims as a 23-year-old recent graduate of the US Naval Academy, who warned rescuers about where the gunman was, even after he was shot several times.

"Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own," wrote Adam Watson on Facebook. "He died a hero and we are very proud, but there is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled."


US Senator in Florida Rick Scott issued a blunt statement calling the attack – the second on a US naval base this week – an act of terrorism "whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable."

The gunman was a member of the Saudi army who was in aviation training at the base, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told a news conference. DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferre later said the governor learned of the shooter's identity in interviews with the FBI and military officials.

A US official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity identified the shooter as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. The employee was not allowed to discuss the matter publicly. The official also said the FBI is reviewing posts on social networks and investigating whether he acted alone or was connected to any larger group.

During a news conference late on Friday, the FBI declined to disclose the shooter's identity and declined to comment on his possible motivations.

"There are a lot of reports circulating, but the FBI only deals with facts," said Rachel L. Rojas, FBI special agent responsible for the Jacksonville field office.


Last Friday, two US officials identified the student as a second Saudi Air Force lieutenant and said the authorities were investigating whether the attack was related to terrorism. They spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose information that had not yet been made public.

A Heritage Foundation national security expert has warned against creating an immediate link with terrorism.

Charles "Cully" Stimson warned against the assumption that "because he was a Saudi citizen in his air force and murdered our people, that he is a terrorist."

President Donald Trump declined to say if the shooting was related to terrorism. Trump tweeted his condolences to the victims' families and noted that he had received a call from Saudi King Salman.

He said the king told him that "this person in no way represents the feelings of the Saudi people."


The Saudi government offered condolences to the victims and their families and said it would provide "full support" to US authorities.

The US has long had a robust Saudi training program, providing assistance in the US and the kingdom. Filming, however, illuminated the sometimes difficult relationship between the two countries.

The kingdom is still trying to recover from the death last year of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi intelligence officials and a forensic doctor killed and dismembered Khashoggi on October 2, 2018, just as his fiancee was waiting outside the diplomatic mission.

One of the navy's most historic and historical bases, Pensacola Naval Station extends along the southwestern edge of the city center and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.

Part of the base resembles a university campus, with buildings where 60,000 members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard train each year in various aviation fields. A few hundred students from countries outside the US are also enrolled in training, said Base Commander Captain Tim Kinsella.


All filming took place in a classroom and the shooter used a gun, officials said. Weapons are not allowed at the base, which Kinsella said would remain closed until further notice.

Adam Watson said his younger brother had managed to get out of the classroom building to inform authorities where the gunman was shot "several times". These details were invaluable, "he wrote on his Facebook page.

Watson's father, Benjamin Watson, was quoted by the Pensacola News Journal as saying that his son was a recent graduate of the US Naval Academy who dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot. He said he had reported to Pensacola two weeks ago to begin flight training. "He died serving his country," said Benjamin Watson.

The shooting is second in a US naval base this week. A sailor whose submarine was moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian officials on Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.



Associated Press reporters Lolita Baldor, Ben Fox and Mike Balsamo in Washington; Jon Gambrell in Dubai; Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida, and Freida Frisaro in Miami contributed to this report.

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