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Pensacola military base shooting confirmed as jihadi terrorism, AG Barr says

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, left, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hold a press conference at the US Department of Justice on April 18, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The briefing comes just before the release of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Sipa USA/TNS)
January 13, 2020

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced the results of an investigation into the motives of the Saudi flight student who carried out a deadly Dec. 6 shooting attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. The conclusion: the shooting was an act of terrorism.

Barr said the gunman, identified as 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was “motivated by jihadist ideology.” In a Department of Justice transcript of his statements, Barr cited various anti-American and anti-Israeli social media comments as well as a comment on Sept. 11 of last year in which Alshamrani said “the countdown has begun.”

“This was an act of terrorism,” Barr said. “The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology.”

The gunman killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight more.

Barr credited the work of the FBI for investigating the attack.

As he spoke, Barr was joined by David Bowdich, Deputy Director of the FBI; John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Michael Sherwin, Associate Deputy Attorney General for National Security; Rachel Rojas, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Field Office in Jacksonville, Florida; and Larry Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida

Barr further discussed details about the recent decision to expel other Saudi nationals who participated in U.S. flight training. Barr said that while early reports other Saudi nationals accompanied the gunman to film the shooting, he said the shooter actually arrived by himself and the other Saudi students merely took videos of the resulting commotion.

However, Barr did say that while there was no evidence others had assisted the attack or had pre-knowledge of it, investigators did learn of 21 members of the Saudi military who possessed “derogatory material.”

He further said 17 had social media containing some jihadi or anti-American content, despite no specific connection to any terror groups. He also said 15 individuals, including some of the same 17 Saudi nationals identified as having pro-jihadi material, had some contact with child pornography.

Barr said, ultimately, the U.S. attorneys involved in the case said none of the 21 individuals would be subject to prosecution in normal circumstances. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did determine that the problems surrounding those 21 individuals showed “conduct unbecoming an officer” for which they would be disenrolled from their training in the U.S.

He also credited the Saudi government for its cooperation in the investigation and said the Saudi kingdom was helpful in compelling the flight students to comply with investigators and help determine if the shooter had accomplices.

Barr also took the time to recognize the acts of many service members who responded quickly on the day of the attack.

“I want to draw special attention to two U.S. Marines: Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Maisel and Staff Sgt. Samuel Mullins,” Barr said. “They were outside the building when they heard gunfire and, although unarmed, they ran into the building to confront the shooter.  Their only weapon was a fire extinguisher that they had pulled off the wall as they ran toward the gunfire.  Who but the Marines?”

Barr continued, “I would also like to mention the heroic acts of Navy Airman Ryan Blackwell.  The shooter shot Airman Blackwell five times, yet Ryan still managed to jump on top of a fellow sailor to keep her from being shot.  He further assisted other students and helped them escape, all while taking additional fire from the shooter.  Airman Blackwell’s heroic acts also saved countless lives that day.”