PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — An aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday morning, an attack the Saudi government quickly condemned and that U.S. officials were investigating for possible links to terrorism.
The assault, which left four people dead, including the shooter, was the second at a U.S. Navy base this week and prompted a massive law enforcement response and base lockdown.
Twelve people were hurt in the attack, including two sheriff’s deputies who were the first to respond, one of whom killed the shooter, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. One of the deputies was shot in the arm and the other in the knee, and both were expected to recover, he said.
The shooter was a member of the Saudi military who was in aviation training at the base, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference. DeSantis spokesman Helen Ferre later said that DeSantis learned about the shooter’s identity from briefings with FBI and military officials.
A U.S. official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity identified the shooter as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Earlier Friday, two U.S. officials identified the student as a second lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force, and said authorities were investigating whether the attack was terrorism-related. They spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose information that had not yet been made public.
President Donald Trump declined to say whether the shooting was terrorism-related. Trump tweeted his condolences to the families of the victims and noted that he had received a phone call from Saudi King Salman.
He said the king told him that “the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people.”
The Saudi government issued a news release echoing Trump’s remarks.
DeSantis said the shooting demanded a response from Saudi Arabia.
“Obviously, the government … needs to make things better for these victims,” he said. “I think they’re going to owe a debt here, given that this was one of their individuals.”
A national security expert from the Heritage Foundation warned against making an immediate link to terrorism.
“If there is some connection to terrorism, well, then that’s that,” said Charles “Cully” Stimson of the Heritage Foundation. “But let’s not assume that because he was a Saudi national in their air force and he murdered our people, that he is a terrorist.”
Stimson said it was also possible that the shooter was “a disgruntled evil individual who was mad because he wasn’t going to get his pilot wings, or he wasn’t getting the qualification ratings that he wanted, or he had a beef with somebody, or there was a girlfriend involved who slighted him.”
Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a scathing statement calling the shooting an act of terrorism ““whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable.”
Scott added that it was “clear that we need to take steps to ensure that any and all foreign nationals are scrutinized and vetted extensively before being embedded with our American men and women in uniform.”
One of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases, Naval Air Station sprawls along the waterfront southwest of downtown Pensacola and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.
Part of the base resembles a college campus, with buildings where 60,000 members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard train each year in multiple fields of aviation. A couple hundred students from countries outside the U.S. are also enrolled in training, said Base commander Capt. Tim Kinsella.
The base is also home to the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, and includes the National Naval Aviation Museum, a popular regional tourist attraction.
Lucy Samford, 31, said her husband, a Navy reservist and civilian worker on the base, was about 500 yards (0.46 kilometers) from where the shooting happened. She said she got a call from him a little after 7 a.m. and “one of the first things out of his mouth was, ‘I love you. Tell the kids I love them. I just want you to know there’s an active shooter on base.’”
Her husband, whom she declined to identify, later told her he was OK.
All of the shooting took place in one classroom and the shooter used a handgun, authorities said. Weapons are not allowed on the base.
The base remained closed until further notice, Kinsella said.
The shooting is the second at a U.S. naval base this week. A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.
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