FBI hunt for ‘missing’ Saudi soldiers after Pensacola Naval base shooting6 min read

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Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani was a Saudi aviator training at the U.S. naval station

Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani was a Saudi aviator training at the U.S. naval station

The FBI is reportedly hunting for several Saudi students from Navy Station Pensacola, after they vanished in the wake of Friday’s mass shooting at the base. 

Fellow Saudi Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani, 21, killed three and wounded 12 others in the attack before he was shot dead by police.

According to AP, investigators have now detained 10 Saudi students from the base – a number revised up from six – but several others remain unaccounted for. 

Authorities have not revealed the number of Saudi students they are looking for, and it’s unclear why they have not come forward to police.  

It follows chilling new details emerging in the wake of Friday morning’s shooting, including news that three Saudi military students joined al-Shamrani for a dinner party the night before the attack where they watched videos of mass shootings. 

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that al-Shamrani and three other Saudi students traveled from Pensacola to New York last week, where they visited several museums and are thought to hwatched the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony. 

The tree lighting, attended by thousands of people, took place on Wednesday evening – just 36 hours before the shootings took place.  

Emergency responders are seen near the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola on Friday. Three people were killed by a Saudi gunman, who was taken down by sheriff's deputies

Emergency responders are seen near the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola on Friday. Three people were killed by a Saudi gunman, who was taken down by sheriff’s deputies

One of the three Saudi military students who attended al-Shamrani’s twisted dinner party was caught videotaping outside the building while the shooting was taking place, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity after being briefed by federal authorities. 

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Two other Saudi students watched from a car nearby, the official said.

The official said 10 Saudi students were being held on the base Saturday while several others were unaccounted for.

U.S. officials say they are investigating the attack for possible links to terrorism.

Police cars escort an ambulance after a shooter open fire inside Naval Station Pensacola

Police cars escort an ambulance after a shooter open fire inside Naval Station Pensacola 

Al-Shamrani opened fire in a classroom at the base Friday morning, killing three Americans.

The FBI is examining social media posts and investigating whether Al-Shamrani acted alone or was connected to any broader group.

The assault, which prompted a massive law enforcement response and base lockdown, ended when a sheriff’s deputy killed the attacker. Eight people were hurt in the attack, including the deputy and a second deputy who was with him.

Family members on Saturday identified one of the victims as a 23-year-old recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who alerted first responders to where the shooter was even after he had been shot several times.

‘Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own,’ Adam Watson wrote on Facebook. ‘He died a hero and we are beyond proud but there is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled.’

Watson was a native of Enterprise, Alabama who was actively involved in JROTC and National Honor Society in high school. 

After graduating from high school in 2014, he spent four years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he competed as part of the academy’s elite rifle team. He graduated from the academy in May and was commissioned as an ensign.

Video from the graduation ceremony shows Watson proudly taking the oath of office to defend the Constitution, as his loving parents and other family members look on.  

Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a scathing statement calling the shooting – the second on a U.S. Naval base this week – an act of terrorism ‘whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable.’

During a news conference Friday night, the FBI declined to release the shooter’s identity and wouldn’t comment on his possible motivations.

‘There are many reports circulating, but the FBI deals only in facts,’ said Rachel L. Rojas, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Jacksonville Field Office.

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 ‘this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.’

The Saudi government offered condolences to the victims and their families and said it would provide ‘full support’ to U.S. authorities.

The U.S. has long had a robust training program for Saudis, providing assistance in the U.S. and in the kingdom. The shooting, however, shined a spotlight on the two countries’ sometimes rocky relationship.

The kingdom is still trying to recover from the killing last year of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi intelligence officials and a forensic doctor killed and dismembered Khashoggi on Oct. 2, 2018, just as his fiancée waited outside the diplomatic mission.

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One of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases, Naval Air Station Pensacola sprawls along the waterfront southwest of the city’s downtown 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.

All of the shooting took place in one classroom and the shooter used a handgun, authorities said. Weapons are not allowed on the base, which Kinsella said would remain closed until further notice.

Adam Watson said his little brother was able to make it outside the classroom building to tell authorities where the shooter was after being shot ‘multiple’ times. ‘Those details were invaluable,’ he wrote on his Facebook page.

Watson’s father, Benjamin Watson, was quoted by the Pensacola News Journal as saying that his son was a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot. He said he had reported to Pensacola two weeks ago to begin flight training. ‘He died serving his country,’ Benjamin Watson 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.