Saudi gunman tweeted against US before naval base shooting
PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Saudi gunman who killed three people at the Pensacola naval base had apparently gone on Twitter shortly before the shooting to blast U.S. support of Israel and accuse America of being anti-Muslim, a U.S. official said Sunday as the FBI confirmed it is operating on the assumption the attack was an act of terrorism.
Investigators are also trying to establish whether the killer, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone or was part of a larger plot.
Alshamrani, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the rampage at a classroom building Friday, was undergoing flight training at Pensacola, where members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction.
“We are, as we do in most active-shooter investigations, work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism,” said Rachel J. Rojas, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Jacksonville.
Authorities believe the gunman made social media posts criticizing the U.S. under a user handle similar to his name, but federal law enforcement officials are investigating whether he authored the words or just posted them, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Also, investigators believe the gunman visited New York City, including Rockefeller Center, days before the shooting and are working to determine the purpose of the trip, the official said.
All foreign students at the Pensacola base have been accounted for, no arrests have been made, and the community is under no immediate threat, Rojas said at a news conference. A Saudi commanding officer has ordered all students from the country to remain at one location at the base, authorities said.
“There are a number of Saudi students who are close to the shooter and continue to cooperate in this investigation,” Rojas said. “The Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with our investigation.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the investigation was proceeding under “the presumption that this was an act of terrorism”and he called for better vetting of foreigners allowed into the U.S. for training on American bases.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday afternoon, DeSantis also said the gunman had a social media trail and a “deep-seated hatred of the United States.”
He said he thought such an attack could have been prevented with better vetting.
“You have to take precautions” to protect the nation, DeSantis said.
“To have this individual be able to take out three of our sailors, to me that’s unacceptable,” the governor added.
Earlier in the week of the shooting, Alshamrani hosted a dinner party where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings, another U.S. official told the AP on Saturday.