The Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation on May 18 said Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, who killed three U.S. Navy sailors and injured eight more Americans in a December 2019 attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., had “significant ties” to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula dating back to even before he came to the U.S. for training.
The FBI was able to access iPhones belonging to Alshamrani, which the shooter had tried to destroy during the attack before he was shot and killed. The phones had “information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani’s significant ties to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” Attorney General William Barr said during a press conference.
AQAP is the terrorist group’s offshoot in Yemen, which had previously claimed responsibility for the attack. The Pensacola attack was the “brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said during the briefing.
Despite initial reports, the investigation shows that Alshamrani conducted the attack alone. However, 21 Saudi cadets were found to have “derogatory material” that included anti-American or pro-jihad content, and the government of Saudi Arabia disenrolled them from the training program and brought them back to the country.
The attack killed Ensign Joshua Watson, Airman Mohammed Haitham, and Airman Cameron Walters.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in a statement, said the new information “underscores the threats to our nation” posed by al-Qaida and its affiliates.
Following the attack, the Pentagon put in place new steps to increase security at Pensacola and other installations that host international trainees. These include background checks and physical security processes, such as restrictions on firearms, control measures limiting access to installations, new standards on detecting and reporting insider threats, and establishing new vetting procedures.
“Based on the FBI findings, and in addition to already executed protective measures, the department will take further prudent and effective measures to safeguard our people,” Esper said.
Despite the attack, the Pentagon said military partnerships and the international student training program “remain strong and are a vital component of our national defense.”