The Royal Saudi Air Force member behind the December 2019 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola had “significant ties” to the terror group Al Qaeda for years before conducting the deadly attack that killed three victims and injured eight others.
During a Monday morning press conference, Attorney General Bill Barr said Mohammed Alshamrani’s phones “contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani’s significant ties to Al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the United States.”
Alshamrani’s two iPhones were recently unlocked by federal technicians after months of attempts and refusals from Apple to assist in the process. Barr said that the recently obtained information from Alshamrani’s phones has led to counterterrorism operations against one of Alshamrani’s overseas associates in Yemen, and revealed significant information about the terrorist himself.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the Navy base attack was a “brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation.”
“We now know enough to see Alshamrani for what he was — a determined AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] terrorist who spent years preparing to attack us.”
Wray said the investigators uncovered evidence showing Alshamrani had been radicalized as far back as 2015 – long before he began training in the U.S. – and had maintained contact with terrorist operatives ever since.
“Alshamrani described a desire to learn about flying years ago around the same time he talked about attending the Saudi Air Force academy to carry out what he called a ‘special operation.’ He then pressed his plan forward, joining the Air Force and bringing his plot here to America.”
“We now know that Alshamrani continued to associate with AQAP even while living in Texas and in Florida, and in the months before the attack while he was here among us, he talked with AQAP about his plans and tactics, taking advantage of the information he acquired here to assess how many people he could try to kill.”
Part of Alshamrani’s thorough planning included casing out the Navy base’s classroom building, making videos inside the building, and wrote out a will on his cell phone that described his motives for the attack. That same will was released by Al Qaeda after the attack when they publicly claimed responsibility.
“He wasn’t just coordinating with them about planning and tactics, he was helping the organization make the most it could out of his murders, and he continued to confer with his AQAP associates right up until the end — the very night before he started shooting.”
Barr had concluded in January that the attack “was an act of terrorism” and Alshamrani was “motivated by jihadist ideology.”
Investigators previously revealed that Alshamrani posted a message to his social media account on Sept. 11, 2019 that said, “the countdown has begun.” He had also posted other “anti-American, anti-Israeli, and jihadi messages on social media, and did so two hours before his attack at the naval base.”
Alshamrani had used a Glock 9mm handgun in the attack, which he was not authorized to possess on base.
“Weapons are not authorized on base. You cannot bring a weapon on base unless you’re a member of the security forces,” NAS Pensacola commanding officer Capt. Timothy F. Kinsella Jr. had said after the attack.
Alshamrani had used a loophole in the U.S. gun laws that permitted foreign nationals to legally purchase a gun if they possessed a hunting license, among a few other possible criteria. Alshamrnai had indeed obtained a hunting license on July 11, 2019, and purchased his handgun just days later, the Wall Street Journal reported in December.
Hundreds of foreign military personnel from all over the world routinely attended NAS Pensacola for training. However, after the attack, the Pentagon changed its policy to temporarily ban and expel all Saudi pilots during the course of the investigation. A month and a half after the attack in late January, the Pentagon gave the okay for Saudi pilots to resume training in the U.S.
After the press conference on Monday, Secretary of Defense Mark. Esper issued a statement saying vowing additional measures in response to the attack.
“The Department of Defense is incredibly grateful for the diligent work by the FBI team investigating this horrific attack that took the lives of three American patriots. Based on the FBI findings, and in addition to already executed protective measures, the Department will take further prudent and effective measures to safeguard our people,” Esper said.