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Pensacola hit by cyberattack after Saudi pilot killed three at Navy base

According to Air Force Reserve Command Intelligence, open sources report that cyber actors and terrorists use multiple fake personas on social media to target Defense Department personnel. (Air Force/Released)
December 11, 2019

Police are investigating a cyberattack on the city of Pensacola, Fla., that took place Saturday, and whether it is related to the killing of three individuals at the Naval base there on Friday.

Police officials said they became aware of the attack at about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the day after a Saudi Arabian Air Force member killed three and left eight wounded, but were not prepared to dismiss any connections, the Associated Press reported. Kaycee Lagarde, the city’s spokeswoman, could not reveal how the city became aware of the attack.

“I can confirm the city of Pensacola has experienced a cyberattack and we’ve disconnected much of our city’s network until the issue can be resolved,” Lagarde said. “As a precaution we have reported the incident to the federal government.”

In order to stop the cyberattack and protect Pensacola computer systems, the city networks remained offline Monday morning, but city officials stressed that all emergency services, including 911 services, were still running. However, some phone lines to city officials’ offices weren’t working and neither were the city’s emails.

“It’s too early to confirm or dispel,” Lagarde added. “That would be a question for the federal agencies.”

An FBI spokesman could not confirm the agency has a role in the cyberattack investigation.

The Navy base is a training base and attracts military personnel from all over the world, there are a “couple hundred” foreign military personnel there, the base commanding officer, Capt. Timothy Kinsella Jr. said.

The suspect at the Naval base on Friday was later identified as 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force. Investigators were investigating the incident as an act of terrorism, though they have not officially declared it as such.

“We’re continuing to operate. We just might have to do some things a little bit old-school, with pen and paper,” Lagarde said. “We don’t want to get into too many specifics because of security.”

Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida called the attack an act of terrorism on Twitter and vowed to “ensure there’s extreme vetting for people who come to our country and train on our bases.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Navy veteran, said it is a “dark day for a great place,” at a press conference on Friday.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said the suspect used a handgun, which officials later confirmed was purchased legally. The suspect possessed a hunting license, which is one of three exemptions allowing foreign nationals to purchase a gun in the U.S. despite being a nonresident. The Navy is now calling on Congress to limit this law.

Kinsella said weapons are not authorized on the base, noting, “You cannot bring a weapon on base unless you’re a member of the security forces.”

The community is still grieving over the shooting at the naval base, which is a central part of the city economy and public life.

On Sunday, hundreds of sailors and Marines at the base saluted the family of slain one of the victims, Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson.