The investigation into the Dec. 6 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola that left four people dead — including the shooter — and wounded eight others “is still open and active,” according to a Monday email from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Freedom of Information Act Team.
The email came in response to a Thursday email from the Northwest Florida Daily News seeking an update on the status of the newspaper’s Dec. 7, 2019, letter requesting documents from the NCIS and the Department of the Navy under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The newspaper asked for information on the shooter, Saudi air force lieutenant Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, and all other Saudi aviation students on the installation at the time of the shooting.
Both the Navy and the NCIS rejected those initial requests for documents, and both also rejected subsequent appeals of those initial rejections. However, the Navy’s Office of the Judge Advocate General did leave the door open to potential future release of documents related to the shooting.
Al-Shamrani fired the fatal shots inside an NAS Pensacola building on the morning of Dec. 6 before he was killed by a responding Escambia County sheriff’s deputy. In the wake of the shooting, 21 Saudi military trainees, including 12 from NAS Pensacola, were expelled from the United States.
In another development related to the Daily News’ efforts to get records related to the shooting,, the Freedom of Information Act Office of the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) — a unified command comprising all U.S. military services whose area of responsibility includes Saudi Arabia — said in a Friday email that a Dec. 9, 2019, FOIA request from the Daily News seeking information on al-Shamrani and other Saudi students at NAS Pensacola at the time of the shooting remains in the review process.
“The request is currently #1731 in the USCENTOM queue,” the email noted. “Please contact our office in 60-90 days if a response has not been provided.”
In its initial response to the Daily News FOIA request, USCENTCOM’s Command Records Branch noted that the processing time for the request “will depend upon consultation with other DoD (Department of Defense) components, stateside, overseas, or other agencies.”
In a January news conference, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich called the investigation into the NAS Pensacola shootings “incredibly complex,” noting that, at that time, it involved hundreds of FBI personnel and dozens of partner agencies and entities. At the time of the news conference, the FBI had “conducted more than 500 interviews and collected more than 42 terabytes of digital media in an effort to determine if Alshamrani was acting alone,” according to an FBI news release.
“So far, we have not identified any solid evidence that the shooter acted with any co-conspirators or that he was inspired by a specific group,” Bowdich said at the time.
However, in its rejection of the Daily News’ FOIA request and subsequent appeal, the Navy’s Office of the Judge Advocate General noted in its Dec. 23, 2019, letter that “(w)hile Mr. al-Shamrani is dead, it is possible that others may be charged criminally in this case. Likewise, it is possible that other foreign students may be subject to administrative proceedings.”
In that letter, the director of the Navy JAG’s General Litigation Division, G.E. Lattin, cited a provision of the U.S. Code, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(7)(a) which allows withholding of “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that production of such law enforcement records or information … could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”
In that light, Lattin wrote, the applicable code section is “temporal in nature,” suggesting that the records request from the Daily News could potentially be fulfilled at some point in the future.
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