FBI finds links between Saudi Pensacola gunman and al-Qaida
The Saudi military student who killed three Americans at a US naval base in December had longstanding ties to al-Qaeda and planned an attack before he arrived in the United States, US justice officials said on Monday.
The December 6 attack by Mohammed Alshamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force flight student at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, "was actually the culmination of years of planning and preparation" by al-Qaeda, said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Alshamrani, who was killed by a sheriff's deputy during the rampage at a classroom building, was undergoing flight training at Pensacola, where members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction.
Ahead of a press conference by Wray and Attorney General William Barr, a justice official told the Associated Press that contacts between Alshamrani and an al-Qaeda operative had been discovered on the gunman's phone.
The Justice Department had previously asked Apple to help extract data from two iPhones that belonged to the gunman, including one that authorities say Alshamrani damaged with a bullet after being confronted by law enforcement. It was not immediately clear how the FBI and Justice Department were able to ultimately access the phone.
Law enforcement officials left no doubt that Alshamrani was motivated by extremist ideology, saying he visited a New York City memorial to the attacks of September 11, 2001, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and posted anti-American and anti-Israeli messages on social media just two hours before the shooting.
Separately, al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, released a video claiming the attack. The branch, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has long been considered the global network's most dangerous branch and has attempted to carry out attacks on the US mainland.
In January, US officials announced that they were sending home 21 Saudi military students after an investigation revealed that they had had extremist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had "contact with child pornography".
Barr said at the time that Saudi Arabia had agreed to review the conduct of all 21 to see if they should face military discipline and to send back anyone the US later determines should face charges.
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