A Saudi national has been identified by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the suspect in a Friday morning shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, that left four dead, including the suspect, and eight people wounded.
The gunman was training in aviation at the base, which hosts military from around the globe, DeSantis said. The FBI has taken the lead in the investigation.
The shooter, identified by three sources as Mohammed Alshamrani, began his three-year course in August 2017 with English, basic aviation and initial pilot training, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly due to the ongoing investigation.
He was one of 852 Saudi nationals in the United States training under the Pentagon’s security cooperation agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, according to a Defense official.
The gunman has been decried as “barbaric” by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, according to President Donald Trump.
“Obviously, the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims,” DeSantis said in a press conference. “They’re going to owe a debt here.”
Here’s what we know about the Saudi national and why he was at the base.
Why was a Saudi national taking classes at a US Naval base?
Officials said the shooter was taking part in an aviation training program at the Naval Air Station. Training international students at NAS Pensacola is a core part of the base’s mission.
The base’s Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity International Training Center is a department on base that specializes in training aviators from other countries and forging international partnerships.
NITC has several partnerships with the Royal Saudi Air Forces, including an undergraduate pilot basic aviation preparatory training course, a senior executive leadership course and a junior officer enhanced leadership course.
Commanding Officer Capt. Tim Kinsella said Friday that “a couple hundred” international students are training at the base.
What is the vetting process for international students?
International students can complete all or part of the typical 18-month syllabus on base and must go through several federal vetting processes before training at NAS Pensacola.
Foreign military trainees are vetted before traveling to the United States. U.S. embassy personnel research data bases for activities such as support for terrorism, drug trafficking, corruption and other criminal behavior. Travel orders are denied to those who fail to pass the screening, the official said.
“The way that program works is that the foreign government has to certify that these are the best of their best, that these are their future generals and admirals and senior military officials for their countries,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “The U.S. State Department does a scrub on those prospective trainees, and after that they matriculate into the program.”
Do we know the motive for the shooting?
Officials have not released a motive for the shooting.
Trump on Friday declined to say whether the shooting was related to terrorism but added authorities would be releasing a report shortly.
“That’s all being studied now,” Trump said of the attack. “We will be talking about it very soon.”
While weapons are not permitted on the base, the shooter used a handgun, said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.
The shooting began around 6:30 a.m. CT and the suspect was halted by two Escambia County sheriff’s deputies, who arrived on scene in less than five minutes, Morgan said. One of the deputies fatally shot the gunman, he said.
What has been Saudi Arabia’s response?
King Salman of Saudi Arabia called Trump to express his condolences over the attack, the president said Friday.
“It’s a horrible thing that took place and we’re getting to the bottom of it,” Trump told reporters before a roundtable discussion on small business and red tape reduction.
Contributing: Grace Hauck, Kevin Johnson, Courtney Subramanian,Dennis Wagner, Tom Vanden Brook and John Fritze. Nate Chute is a producer with the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at @nchute.