Investigation Finds 'Significant Ties' to Al-Qaeda in Terror Attack on Florida Naval Base that Killed Three

Posted: May 18, 2020 11:55 AM
Investigation Finds 'Significant Ties' to Al-Qaeda in Terror Attack on Florida Naval Base that Killed Three

Source: AP Photo/Melissa Nelson

Update: Attorney General Barr said in a press conference on Monday morning that Mohammed Alshamrani, the shooter in the December attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, had "significant ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

"Thanks to the relentless efforts and ingenuity of FBI technicians, the FBI finally succeeded in unlocking Alshamrani’s phones. The phones contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani’s significant ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, not only before the attack but before he even arrived in the United States.”

“We now have a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to the attack."

Director of the FBI Christopher Wray said in the same press conference that Alshamrani's actions were "more than just inspired" by AQAP. 

"It is certainly more than just inspired. We know, for example, that he was sharing plans and tactics for them. We know that he was coordinating with them and providing them with an opportunity to take credit for the attack."

Both Barr and Wray criticized Apple for hindering their investigation into Alshamrami by refusing to assist in breaking the encryption of his phones. Wray also stated that no known threat to the United States by al-Qaeda currently exists but that the FBI was continuing investigation into the deceased shooter's associates. 

Original Story: An investigation into the deadly shooting attack at a Florida military base last year has revealed a link to terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. The FBI said on Monday that a now unlocked iPhone belonging to the perpetrator of the shooting attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola provided evidence of a direct connection to al-Qaeda, which had already claimed responsibility for shooting. The attack claimed the lives of three U.S. servicemen and wounded several others.

The shooter, 21-year-old Mohammed Alshamrani, was a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who had been training at the Pensacola base. On December 6, Alshamrani began shooting a 9mm handgun inside of a classroom on base, moving through two floors of the building before being shot and killed by responding law enforcement. 

The attack was videotaped by another Saudi flight student on base while two other Saudi nationals watched the attack from their vehicle. All three witnesses were found to have attended a dinner party at Alshamrani's home shortly before the attack in which they watched videos of other deadly shootings. 

Investigators said the December shooting in Pensacola was an "act of terrorism" which they attributed to Alshamrani's "jihadist ideology." Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack in an audio recording from the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula branch of the organization. In that recording, released in February, Emir of the AQAP Qasim al-Raymi said he instructed Alshamrani to conduct the terror attack in Pensacola. 

Al-Raymi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Yemen at the end of January, shortly before the release of the audio recording. AQAP, known for being a particularly deadly branch of al-Qaeda, confirmed the death of its leader in February. 

The Department of Justice has feuded for months with Apple in their attempt to uncover information from Alshamrani's two iPhones recovered after his death. The breakthrough this week, which bypassed the phone's encryption, revealed that the shooter had been in touch with a suspected al-Qaeda operative. If the December attack in Pensacola is proven to have been directed by al-Qaeda, it will have been the first attack on U.S. soil by a foreign terrorist organization since the attacks of September 11, 2001. 

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Alshamrani made many anti-American comments on social media before the deadly attack late last year, including celebratory messages on the anniversary of 9/11. A tweet from an account thought to be Alshamrani's condemned America for its support of Israel just moments before the first shots were reported. 

The three U.S. servicemen killed were Airman Mohammed Hathaim, 19, Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21. Wounded, Watson was able to alert authorities to the shooter's whereabouts, where Escambia County Sheriff's deputies were able to shoot and kill Alshamrani, ending the brief but deadly standoff. Watson succumbed to his injuries a short time later. 

"After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable," Watson's brother Adam said after the attack. "He died a hero." 

The FBI and Attorney General Bill Barr are expected to announce their findings in a press conference later today.