Saudi airman in US for training suspected in deadly shooting at Florida naval base

Florida Updated: Dec 07, 2019, 10:54 AM IST

The aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy arrives for exercises at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, US March 17, 2004. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the suspect was a Saudi national attending training at the base as part of long-standing Navy programme open to US allies.

A member of the Saudi Air Force visiting the United States for military training is the suspect in a shooting that killed four people and injured eight at a US Navy base in Florida on Friday, the state governor and other officials said.

The shooter was armed with a handgun and was killed by sheriff's deputies responding to the dawn incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Navy and local sheriff's office said, the second deadly shooting at a US military installation this week.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the suspect was a Saudi national attending training at the base as part of long-standing Navy programme open to US allies.

"The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. They are going to owe a debt here, given that this was one of their individuals," DeSantis said at a news conference.

Watch: Florida Naval Base Shooting: 3 killed and 8 injured by Saudi Gunman

USPresident Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia's King Salman called him to offer condolences and sympathy to the victims.

"The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter," Trump wrote on Twitter.

In a statement, Salman condemned the shooting and said Saudi security services were working with U.S. agencies to uncover the cause.

"The perpetrator of this heinous crime does not represent the Saudi people, who count the American people as friends and allies," Salman said.

The FBI said it was the lead investigative agency on the incident, which played out over two floors in a classroom building at a base whose main function is training.

The first reports of an "active shooter" on the base reached the Escambia County sheriff's office at about 6:51 a.m. and a few minutes later a sheriff's deputy fatally shot the suspect in a classroom on the base, Sheriff David Morgan said.

The suspected shooter was Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trainees highly vetted 

In recent weeks, 18 naval aviators and two aircrew members from the Royal Saudi Naval Forces were training with the US Navy, including a stint at Pensacola, according to a Navy press release. It was not clear if the suspected shooter was part of that delegation.

The group came under a Navy programme that offers training to US allies. A couple hundred foreign students are in the programme, Captain Timothy Kinsella, the commander of the base, said during a news conference.

A person familiar with the programme said Saudi Air Force officers selected for military training in the United States are intensely vetted by both countries.

The Saudi personnel are "hand-picked" by their military and often come from elite families, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak to a reporter.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he wanted to see whether US vetting of these foreign military personnel was adequate.

"I want to make sure that we're doing our due diligence to understand: What are our procedures? Is it sufficient?" Esper told reporters. "Are we also screening persons coming to make sure they have their life in order, their mental health is adequate."

Senator Rick Scott of Florida called for a full review of US military programs training foreign nationals on US soil.

"We shouldn't be providing military training to people who wish to harm us," Scott wrote on Twitter.

Two sheriff's deputies were injured in the attack, one shot in the arm, the other in the knee, but both were expected to survive, officials said at the news conference.

Eight people were taken to Baptist Hospital for treatment, hospital spokeswoman Kathy Bowers said.

The Pensacola base, near Florida's border with Alabama, is a major training site for the Navy and employs about 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to its website.

Military personnel are normally restricted from carrying weapons on U.S. bases unless they are part of their daily duties. Nonetheless bases have seen deadly mass shootings before, including one in Ford Hood, Texas, in 2009 that left 13 dead and one at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 that killed 12.

On Wednesday, a sailor shot three civilians at the historic Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii, killing two of them before taking his own life.