(The Center Square) – A Royal Saudi Arabian Air Forces cadet training at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola was acting on behalf of al-Qaida on Dec. 6 when he murdered three U.S. Navy sailors and wounded eight, according to information uncovered from his cellphones.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Monday that Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani had communicated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives before arriving in Florida and right up to the attack.
Alshamrani, 21, had been in the U.S. since August 2017 and obtained a Florida hunting license in mid-April 2019. In July, he legally purchased the 9 mm Glock 45 pistol with an extended magazine in a Pensacola-area gun store.
Alshamrani was among about 200 foreign nationals studying at NAS Pensacola's Naval Aviation Schools Command when he opened fire with the Glock 45 in a classroom, killing three U.S. Navy members and wounding eight before being gunned down by Escambia County sheriff’s deputies.
In the shooting’s aftermath, revelations surfaced that Alshamrani had posted a Twitter manifesto denouncing America as a “nation of evil” and, the night before the attack, watched a video of mass shootings with other Saudi cadets at NAS Pensacola.
In a late-December video, AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi said he directed Alshamrani to commit the murders and claimed to have his last will. Al-Rimi was killed shortly after in a U.S. drone strike.
In January, Barr ruled the shooting was an act of terrorism and asked Apple to help FBI investigators access the two badly damaged, locked iPhones that Alshamrani attempted to shoot and destroy before being killed.
Apple refused even after the FBI received court authorization to search Alshamrani’s iPhones and “after other agencies, foreign governments and third-party technology vendors had failed.”
Barr said Monday the FBI has bypassed security features on at least one iPhone and called for a “legislative solution” to requiring technology vendors be compelled to assist in investigations with national security implications.
“Thanks to the great work of the FBI – and no thanks to Apple – we were able to unlock Alshamrani’s phones,” Barr said. “The trove of information found on these phones has proven to be invaluable to this ongoing investigation and critical to the security of the American people. The bottom line: our national security cannot remain in the hands of big corporations who put dollars over lawful access and public safety. The time has come for a legislative solution.”
According to the FBI, “The phones contained important, previously unknown information that definitively established Alshamrani’s significant ties to AQAP, not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the U.S. The FBI now has a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to the attack.”
FBI technicians’ four-month hacking effort into unlocking the phones has revealed “highly-significant evidence,” including:
• Alshamrani communicated with ADAP using end-to-end encrypted apps, with warrant-proof encryption;
• Alshamrani was “radicalized” by 2015 and joined the Saudi air force to carry out a “special operation” for AQAP;
• Alshamrani “was communicating with AQAP right up until the attack and conferred with his associates until the night before he undertook the murders.”
Within a week of the shooting, Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded lawmakers close a “loophole” in federal law and Florida statutes that allows foreign nationals to purchase handguns if they have a state hunting license.
“I'm a big supporter of the Second Amendment, but the Second Amendment applies so that we, the American people, can keep and bear arms. It does not apply to Saudi Arabians,” he said.