Pensacola shooter who killed three sailors had ties to al Qaeda: FBI
Mohammed Alshamrani shot and killed three U.S. sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola in December.(AP)
The gunman who fatally shot three sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola in December had been been radicalized by al Qaeda, the FBI said Monday.
Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who had been training at the Florida air station, opened fire on Dec. 6 before he was gunned down by Escambia County sheriff deputies.
The FBI ruled it a terrorist attack and the Justice Department said Alshamrani was following “jihadist ideology.”
Alshamrani was the lone gunman and Attorney General William Barr previously said that none of his friends or colleagues were aware of his plans.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a press conference Monday that, based on the information gathered from Alshamrani’s phone, “we have not identified any current threat here in the U.S. or current operative here in the U.S.”
In February, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took credit for the attack, releasing an audio recording that claimed they had encouraged Alshamrani. Their leader, Qassim al-Rimi, was killed in a U.S. attack less than a week later.
Investigators had been trying to search two phones linked to Alshamrani, including one that he allegedly shot during the attack in order to destroy any evidence.
“It was clear at the time that the phones were likely to contain very important information," Barr said Monday. “We asked Apple for assistance and the president asked Apple for assistance.”
Wray said FBI agents were able to break into the phones “through a combination of skill and determination.”
The phones disclosed Alshamrani’s ties to al Qaeda in what Wray called a “brutal culmination of years of planning.”
Alshamrani was “meticulous in his planning," Wray said, claiming that the terrorist had been radicalized “as far back as 2015.”
“He had been connecting and associating with a number of dangerous AQAP operatives,” Wray said.
Barr has publicly criticized Apple for its encryption protocols, which forced the FBI to break into Alshamrani’s phone. The battle between the tech company and the FBI has been ongoing for years, including during a dispute after the 2015 San Bernardino shooting.
Wray said that the FBI’s cracking of Alshamrani’s phones are not a fix to “the broader Apple problem,” citing the time and funds spent on the technology that “seriously hampered this investigation.”
“Finally getting the evidence that Alshamrani tried to hide from us is great, but we really needed it months ago,” Wray said Monday. “Securing the homeland against terrorism remains our top priority."
Wray also said the families of Alshamrani’s victims, Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, deserved answers sooner than the FBI was able to provide them due to the delays.
“Apple’s decision has dangerous consequences for public safety and national security and is, in my opinion, unacceptable," Barr said. “Public safety and privacy are not mutually exclusive.”