Saudi Shooter at Florida Military Base Had Ties to al-Qaeda

Mugshot shows moustachioed man

The FBI has found cellphone evidence linking al Qaeda to the deadly terror attack at a Florida naval base last December, US officials said Monday.

The Saudi military trainee who killed three U.S. sailors and wounded several others in a terror attack a year ago on a military base in Pensacola, Florida, was in touch with a suspected al Qaeda operative, according to multiple U.S. officials briefed on the matter.

The phones contained previously unknown information that definitively established Alshamrani's "significant ties" to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

"We now have a clearer understanding of Alshamrani's associations in the years, months and days leading up to his attack", Attorney General William Barr said at a news conference in which he sharply chastised Apple for not providing help in unlocking the phones.

He said: "If not for our FBI's ingenuity, some luck, and hours upon hours of time and resources, this information would have remained undiscovered".

"The bottom line: our national security can not remain in the hands of big corporations who put dollars over lawful access and public safety. The time has come for a legislative solution".

While in connection with AQAP operatives, who he communicated with using end-to-end encrypted applications, Alshamrani joined the Royal Saudi Air Force in order to carry out a "special operation", authorities said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that gunman was "more than inspired" by AQAP, sharing tactics and "co-ordinating" with the group on plans for attack.

Cars drive through the entry gates of Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola
The gunman killed three US sailors at a naval air base station in Pensacola Florida last year

The Saudi military trainee who killed three and wounded several others in a shooting at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida previous year had links to al-Qaeda, CNN reported on Monday.

AQAP claimed responsibility, but there was no immediate evidence of a direct link at the time. He was undergoing flight training at Pensacola, where members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction.

The attack strained US-Saudi relations and led the Defence department to pause all global military training in the US until further vetting measures could be put in place.

The expelled Saudi students were found to have had jihadist material and indecent images of children in their possession, investigators have said, but none were accused of aiding the killer.

The program has since resumed, but with heavier vetting of Saudi students, and a ban on them accessing firearms.

Several weeks after the shooting, Qassim al-Rimi, the leader of AQAP, announced his group directed Alshamrani to conduct the shooting. They were serving our country.

Even so, he noted: "One deadly foreign-directed attack in 19 years is a relatively high level of success for the U.S.".

"Is this the sign of an existing external plotting capability in Yemen that continues?"

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