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12 Saudis reportedly to be expelled from US after Pensacola shooting rampage

An aerial view of the Navy's newest guided-missile destroyer Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) moored at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola. (U.S. Navy photo by Mr. Patrick Nichols)

More than a dozen Saudi military personnel training in the U.S. are being expelled following an investigation into a shooting rampage at a Florida military base that killed three American service members, multiple media outlets are reporting.

Eight others were wounded in the Dec. 6 attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

The Saudis being ousted are not accused of conspiring with the shooter, a 21-year-old member of the Royal Saudi Air Force, CNN reported. Some were found to have connections to extremist groups and others were found in possession of child porn, CNN said, citing two officials close to the investigation.

The Washington Post said federal officials were preparing to announce developments in the case within days.

The gunman, a second lieutenant, was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy responding to the attack. The Pentagon then grounded all Saudi pilots training in the United States.

Tweets attributed to the killer criticized U.S. support for Israel. He was one of 852 Saudi nationals in the U.S. for military training under a security cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, and the Pentagon immediately began scouring government and commercial databases in a search for red flags.

The Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny the report.

“In the wake of the Pensacola tragedy, the Department of Defense restricted to classroom training programs foreign military students from Saudi Arabia while we conducted a review and enhancement of our foreign student vetting procedures,” said Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a spokesman for the Department of Defense. “That training pause is still in place while we implement new screening and security measures.”

Carver referred further inquiries to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.

In a Dec. 10 memo to military leaders calling for enhanced vetting of foreign nationals entering the U.S. for training, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist referred to Saudi Arabia as an “essential partner” for the Pentagon. The country is the top buyer of U.S. arms and hosts a growing contingent of U.S. troops sent to the Middle East.

No conspirators have been charged in the attack, which drew condemnation from the Saudi government. Saudi officials pledged full support for the U.S. investigation.

The Navy identified the victims as Airman Mohammed Hathaim, 19, from St. Petersburg, Florida; Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Coffee, Alabama; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, from Richmond Hill, Georgia.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook


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