U.S. Ousts 21 Saudi Military Personnel After Florida Killings Deemed 'Act of Terror'

AG William Barr says cadets will be 'disenrolled from their training curriculum' after an investigation found they either had child pornography or social media accounts containing Islamic extremist or anti-American content

Police tape stretches across a street near a building after an active shooting incident at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, December 7, 2019.
AFP

Twenty-one Saudi military cadets undergoing U.S. training will be ousted following an investigation into the fatal shooting of three Americans by a Saudi officer at a Florida naval base that U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday branded an act of terrorism.

The December 6 attack brought fresh complications to U.S.-Saudi relations at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival. A deputy sheriff shot dead the gunman, Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, in the Pensacola, Florida, incident

Barr said 21 Saudi cadets were "disenrolled from their training curriculum" in the U.S. military and would leave the United States later on Monday after an investigation showed they either had child pornography or social media accounts containing Islamic extremist or anti-American content.

During a news conference, Barr - the top U.S. law enforcement official - said there was no evidence of assistance by other Saudi trainees or that any of them had knowledge in advance of the attack.

"This was an act of terrorism," Barr said. "The evidence showed that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology. During the course of the investigation, we learned that the shooter posted a message on September 11 of this year stating, 'The countdown has begun.'"

Barr added that Alshamrani also visited the New York City memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and posted anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi messages on social media, including two hours before the attack.

Saudi Arabia provided "complete and total support" to the American investigation of the incident, Barr said.

Barr said one Saudi individual had "a significant number of such images," while 14 others "had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by someone else or received over social media.

The "derogatory information" fell short of the standard for triggering U.S. criminal charges, Barr said.

"However, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force and in the Royal Navy," Barr said, adding that "the 21 cadets have been disenrolled from their training curriculum in the U.S. military and will be returning to Saudi Arabia later today."