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US military aware of Saudi connection to terrorism: NAS Pensacola killings

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, center, and Navy Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, look on as an Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Ensign Joshua Watson on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Steven Sahiounie, political commentator

Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani, from Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, a 21-year-old in the Royal Saudi Air Force, was a student naval flight officer when he gunned down three people and wounded eight in a classroom at the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Pensacola, Florida on Friday morning. His training in the US was funded by Saudi Arabia, and his father is a retiree from the Saudi military.

The three sailors killed are Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23; Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, who had been students.  “The sailors that lost their lives in the line of duty showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil,” said Capt. Tim Kinsella, Commanding Officer, NAS Pensacola.

Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Deputies arrived on the scene within three to four minutes, fatally shooting the gunman, while several Saudi students were found filming the video account of the attack. Ten Saudi citizens, some who are fellow students, were questioned by investigators, and a search of the killer’s belongings and social media accounts was conducted. The killer has shown videos of mass shootings at a dinner party the night before he carried out the shooting, according to reports.

His training with the US military began in August 2017 and was to end by August 2020. His assignment to Pensacola began last week, although he had arrived in the area beforehand. The Defense Department routinely trains foreign military officers, with more than 5,000 foreign students from 153 countries in the US, with more than 850 Saudis in the current program.

How did he get the gun?

Non-immigrant aliens in the US are generally prohibited from gun ownership, and only military police are allowed to bring or hold a weapon at NAS Pensacola. The killer diabolically skirted the law and obtained a hunting license locally, which he then used to legally buy the Glock 45 9-millimeter handgun which he used in the attack, along with at least 4 additional magazines.

The US military knew that Saudi Arabia exports terror

Sgt. Maj. Stephen J. Palazzo wrote in a military journal on April 29, 2019, that the US needs to demand Saudi Arabia to do more in stopping the dangerous Wahhabi ideology, which is the state religion in Saudi Arabia, through diplomatic and economic pressure. Wahhabi followers are linked to terrorist attacks, militant mosques, and without action, terrorism around the world will continue. He advocated that the US should take a hard stance and refuse to sell them weapons since Saudi Arabia is currently the largest purchaser of US weapons in the world. Finally, the US Army officer said, if they refuse to reform, then they must be designated a state sponsor of terrorism.

Saudi Arabia: chief exporter of Radical Islam

King Salman telephoned Trump on Friday to denounce the Florida shooting as “heinous” and pledge cooperation with American officials to investigate the incident, adding that the shooter “does not represent the Saudi people.” Prince Khalid bin Salman, the king’s younger son said on Twitter, “Like many other Saudi military personnel, I was trained in a US military base…”

What was his motivation?

Friends and colleagues commented that the killer had become more religious after each trip home to Saudi Arabia during training breaks.

According to Rita Katz, the director of SITE, which monitors jihadist activity, the killer had posted a short manifesto on Twitter before the attack that read: “I’m against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil.” The account had also quoted Osama bin Laden, the former Qaeda leader, and was critical of United States foreign policy. “I’m not against you for just being American,” the posts said. “I don’t hate you because your freedoms, I hate you because every day you supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity.” Jerusalem appeared to be a “critical point” for the attacker and one of his most recent tweets shared the text of US President Donald Trump’s December 2017 speech recognizing the city as “Israel’s” capital. “The security is a shared destiny…You will not be safe until we live it as reality in [Palestine], and American troops get out of our land.” The Twitter account that posted the manifesto has been suspended.

The motivation of Islamic terrorists has been attributed to outrage against U.S./Western/Jewish aggression, oppression, and exploitation of Muslim lands and peoples. Islamic leader Yahya Cholil Staquf in a 2017 Time interview said, “Western politicians should stop pretending that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam. There is a clear relationship between fundamentalism, terrorism, and the basic assumptions of Islamic orthodoxy.”

Why they hate us

Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer argues that terrorist attacks (specifically al-Qaeda attacks on targets in the United States) are not motivated by a religiously inspired hatred of American culture or religion, but by the belief that U.S. foreign policy has oppressed, killed, or otherwise harmed Muslims in the Middle East, condensed in the phrase “They hate us for what we do, not who we are.” U.S. foreign policy actions Scheuer believes are fueling Islamic terror include the US-led intervention in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq; Israel–United States relations, namely, financial, military, and political support for Israel.

In his 2004 book, Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, he writes on page 9, “The focused and lethal threat posed to U.S. national security arises not from Muslims being offended by what America is, but rather from their plausible perception that the things they most love and value—God, Islam, their brethren, and Muslim lands—are being attacked by America. What we as a nation do, then, is the key causal factor in our confrontation with Islam.”

Who is calling it terror?

“This was a planned terrorist attack, and the shooter wasn’t alone,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, (R-Fla.), whose district includes Pensacola, said on Twitter. Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, and Representative Matt Gaetz, both described the shooting as an act of terrorism. “Whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable, this was an act of terrorism. There is no reason we should be providing state-of-the-art military training to people who wish us harm.” , Sen. Scott said on Friday. “In my judgment, based upon all of the evidence I have seen, the F.B.I. will open this as an international terrorism case,” said Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, a member of the Homeland Security Committee. However, on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “No, I can’t say it’s terrorism at this time.”

Compensating families for their loss

Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, said Saudi Arabia’s government “owed a debt” to victims’ families. Trump’s response to the shooting has been very low-key, refusing to blame the Saudi Kingdom for any shared responsibility, and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo concurred.  Referring to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump said, “I think they’re going to help out the families very greatly.”

Echos of 9/11 

15 Saudis crashed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, after having trained as pilots in Florida. Relatives of the victims of the 2001 attacks are suing Saudi Arabia for compensation, though they deny responsibility.