Saudi pilot who went on gun rampage at Florida naval base linked to ‘Al-Qaeda operative’ says FBI

WASHINGTON – The FBI found evidence linking the Saudi Arabia suspect of the December 2019 Pensacola naval airbase shooting – a trainee pilot of the Royal Saudi Air Force – to a suspected operative of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

During a press conference May 18 U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that FBI investigators discovered evidence of “significant ties” to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula after finally unlocking Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani’s iPhone.

On Dec. 6, 2019, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force, entered a building on the grounds of Pensacola Naval Air Station and killed three U.S. sailors and severely wounded eight other Americans.  Alshamrani was killed during the attack.

These images of al-Shamrani’s phone were displayed during a January 13, 2019 press conference
Side-by-side comparison of Pensacola shooter Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani’s notes (left side) with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s original claim of responsibility.

“The evidence we’ve been able to develop from the killer’s devices shows that the Pensacola attack was actually the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation, by a longtime AQAP associate,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray today.

“The new evidence shows that al-Shamrani had radicalized not after training here in the U.S. but at least as far back as 2015, and that he had been connecting and associating with a number of dangerous AQAP operatives ever since. It shows that al-Shamrani described a desire to learn about flying years ago, around the same time he talked about attending the Saudi Air Force Academy in order to carry out what he called a “special operation.” And he then pressed his plans forward, joining the Air Force and bringing his plot here—to America.”

Wray said the gunman, in the months before the attack, while he was “here among us,” talked with AQAP about his plans and tactics—taking advantage of the information he acquired here, to assess how many people he could try to kill.

“He was meticulous in his planning,” added Wray. “He made pocket-cam videos as he cased his classroom building. He wrote a final will, purporting to explain himself, and saved it in his phone—the exact same will that AQAP released two months later when they initially claimed responsibility. He wasn’t just coordinating with them about planning and tactics—he was helping the organization make the most it could out of his murders. And he continued to confer with his AQAP associates right until the end, the very night before he started shooting.”

The FBI are still going over evidence they obtained from al-Shamrani’s phones.

“And we’re continuing to run our investigation, now with the benefit of a lot more insight into the murderer’s mind and intentions, his relations with AQAP, and his tactics.”

Wray said the FBI has more to learn, and added, “But we know enough now to see al-Shamrani for what he was—a determined AQAP terrorist, who spent years preparing to attack us.”

Wray said the magnitude of the challenge they faced unlocking the iPhone is hard to overstate.

“We received effectively no help from Apple. We canvassed every partner, and every company, that might have had a solution to access these phones. None did, despite what some claimed in the media. So we did it ourselves.

“Unfortunately, the technique that we developed is not a fix for our broader Apple problem—it’s of pretty limited application. But it has made a huge difference in this investigation.”

READ MORE: Mass shooting at Florida base was act of terrorism: AG Barr

-sarah.murphy@albertapressleader.ca

Sarah Murphy/Alberta Press Leader

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