The FBI is treating Friday’s attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola as “an act of terror,” a member of the agency said, although the motive remains undetermined.
Working under the “presumption that this was an act of terrorism” will allow agents to take advantage of certain investigative techniques, FBI Special Agent in Charge Rachel Rojas said.
Mohammed Alshamrani, a Saudi Arabian Air Force officer who had been in flight training at the base for two years, opened fire in a classroom building on Friday, killing three sailors who ran toward danger to protect others, officials said. Several others were injured.
The shooter used a handgun in the attack and was killed after two deputies exchanged gunfire with him.
The deadly shooting “appears to be a terrorist attack,” White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said. Authorities haven’t found ties between the attacker and terrorist groups.
“We don’t know yet if he was acting alone,” O’Brien said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday. “The FBI is investigating, and they’ve been interviewing, interrogating other Saudi students.”
The victims were Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida; Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia; and Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Enterprise, Alabama.
“If not for their actions, and the actions of the Naval Security Force that were the first responders on the scene, this incident could have been far worse,” said Capt. Tim Kinsella, the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Several other Saudi nationals were questioned
Alshamrani was at the base as part of an ongoing US military program training members of foreign militaries, including Saudi Arabia’s.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Department of Defense will look at the measures currently in place to insure proper vetting and screening of foreign students. Still, he said, the shooting likely wouldn’t impact the US-Saudi alliance.
“I don’t see this undermining the deeper relationship we’ve had with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for decades,” he said.
Over the weekend, several Saudi nationals were detained for questioning in connection to the attack, a US official told CNN. The official didn’t provide information on their connection to the gunman.