Tue, 04 Aug 2020

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - A Saudi military student opened fire with a handgun Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola, leaving three people dead and several others wounded before sheriff's deputies shot and killed him, officials said.

- World news -

The harrowing shootout at the home of the US Navy's fabled Blue Angels aerial demonstration team was the second instance of deadly gunfire at a US naval base in three days. On Wednesday, a sailor opened fire at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, killing two and injuring a third, before killing himself.

The Florida shooting began just as the sun was rising in the Panhandle, and by the afternoon, the FBI had taken command as the lead investigative agency, seeking to determine whether the gunman's history or any social media posts pointed to terrorism or some other motive, officials said, the Washington Post reported.

The Friday shooting is being reviewed for any links to terrorism, though the FBI has not yet determined whether to classify the case as one of terrorism, said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

US and Saudi government officials identified the gunman as Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, who had been receiving aviation training at the base. Officials said investigators are also working to determine what, if anything, Shamrani's fellow students knew about his intentions.

The deadly violence at the hands of a Saudi military student on an American base threatens to further complicate relations between the two countries, but US President Donald Trump struck a measured tone on Twitter, saying that Saudi King Salman had called him "to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies."

"The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people," Trump tweeted.

Trump's restraint stood in contrast to some of his past reactions to violence by people from predominantly Muslim countries.

Hours after eight people were killed in a 2017 alleged terrorist attack in New York City, Trump demanded officials "step up our already extreme vetting program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!" As a presidential candidate, the president once claimed "Islam hates us."

Late Friday, several independent organizations published postings from a Twitter account said to belong to Shamrani. The postings, under the handle @M7MD_SHAMRANI, included a photo image of a letter in English apparently written a few hours before the shooting rampage.

Twitter suspended the account Friday afternoon.

Excerpts of the Twitter postings were published by SITE Intelligence Group and the Middle East Media Research Institute, two US organizations that track extremist groups' online propaganda.

In the letter, the writer blasts the United States for "funding crimes against Muslims" and supporting Israel. "You will not be safe until we live it as reality in (Palestine), and American troops get out of our land," he writes.

The letter does not contain an explicit pledge of support for any group, but the contents echo views expressed by al-Qaeda, analysts said. The account profile lists the US Chief of Naval Operations as among the accounts followed.

The posting, if authenticated, "suggests terrorist motive" and "echos Bin Laden," SITE Director Rita Katz said in a Twitter posting.

"The style doesn't necessarily resemble one group over another," Katz said.

After Friday's shooting in Florida, state officials called for closer scrutiny of the training program that brought the gunman to the United States and said the Saudi government should pay compensation to his victims.

"This is a dark day for a very great place," said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. "I think there's obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi air force and then to be here training on our soil, to do this."

Saudi Arabia "needs to make things better for these victims, and I think they're going to owe a debt here," DeSantis added.

Sen. Rick Scott said he was "extremely concerned" by the issues raised by the shooting and called for a review of all programs that place foreign nationals with US military personnel.

Pentagon officials said Shamrani's training with the US military began in August 2016, and was scheduled to finish in August 2020. His coursework included English, basic aviation and initial aviation training, officials said.

It was not immediately clear whether the three deceased victims were service members or civilians. Multiple people were taken to area hospitals. Among them were two Escambia County sheriff's deputies who are expected to survive.

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