Saudis say gun­man ar­rived in US with rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy

Orlando Sentinel - - LABORLAND - By Missy Ryan

WASHINGTON — The Saudi avi­a­tion stu­dent re­spon­si­ble for a shoot­ing that killed three U.S. sailors on a Florida base last week ap­pears to have em­braced rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy as early as 2015, well be­fore he ar­rived in the United States for train­ing, a Saudi gov­ern­ment analysis has found.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­ter­nal re­port, a Twit­ter ac­count be­lieved to have been used by Mo­hammed Al­sham­rani in­di­cates that four re­li­gious fig­ures de­scribed as rad­i­cal ap­pear to have shaped the Saudi Air Force trainee’s “ex­trem­ist thought.” A copy of the re­port was ob­tained by The Washington Post.

The at­tack at Naval Air Sta­tion Pen­sacola has raised con­cerns about the vet­ting of for­eign mil­i­tary per­son­nel who take part in train­ing and ex­change pro­grams in the United States, and it has drawn re­newed con­gres­sional scru­tiny of the king­dom fol­low­ing a pe­riod of sub­stan­tial ten­sion.

On Tues­day, the Pen­tagon said it was sus­pend­ing op­er­a­tional train­ing for about 850 vis­it­ing Saudis, part of a larger re­view of the han­dling of for­eign mil­i­tary stu­dents.

Of­fi­cials have at­tempted to re­as­sure res­i­dents around the base that they are track­ing no re­lated plots as they pur­sue in­for­ma­tion re­lated to Fri­day’s at­tack.

The Saudi gov­ern­ment says it is work­ing with the

U.S. and other al­lies to de­ter­mine what mo­ti­vated the shooter and im­prove screen­ing pro­ce­dures for mil­i­tary per­son­nel and stu­dents be­ing sent over­seas.

Of­fi­cials have scram­bled to piece to­gether lim­ited in­for­ma­tion about Al­sham­rani, who ar­rived in the United States in 2017 as part of an ex­tended pro­gram to be­come a weapons sys­tems op­er­a­tor. The 21-year-old was shot dead by a sher­iff’s deputy af­ter open­ing fire in a class­room. Eight peo­ple were wounded.

The re­port also put for­ward in­for­ma­tion that could ex­plain why his Twit­ter ac­tiv­ity was not pre­vi­ously de­tected. The ac­count now be­lieved to be Al­sham­rani’s, the re­port said, did not dis­play his full name, but rather parts of his name that are com­mon in Saudi Ara­bia, and con­tained no bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion or photo.

“Of note, the Sham­ran tribe is one (of ) the king­dom’s largest tribes, and count­less of its mem­bers carry the name of Mo­hammed,” the re­port said. “As it is not un­com­mon for ex­trem­ists and ter­ror­ists to use pseu­do­nym of a large tribe to hide their real iden­tity on so­cial me­dia, it was dif­fi­cult for au­thor­i­ties to prop­erly iden­tify the shooter un­til he re­leased his man­i­festo.”

A few hours be­fore the at­tack, a man­i­festo was posted on Al­sham­rani’s feed de­cry­ing what he said were “crimes against Mus­lims,” cit­ing the pres­ence of mil­i­tary troops in Mus­lim na­tions, the prison at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, and U.S. sup­port for Is­rael.

“His retweets and likes in gen­eral heav­ily fa­vored re­li­gious ac­counts that ad­vo­cated for ji­had and de­fended ji­hadists who pros­e­ly­tized against both the West and Western-al­lied Mus­lim gov­ern­ments alike,” the re­port said.

A Saudi of­fi­cial cau­tioned that while the ma­te­rial from Al­sham­rani’s Twit­ter feed in the re­port sheds light on his ex­trem­ist in­flu­ences, it did not nec­es­sar­ily con­sti­tute ev­i­dence of what led him to com­mit the at­tack.

“Ev­ery ter­ror­ist is an ex­trem­ist, but not ev­ery ex­trem­ist com­mits ter­ror­ist acts,” the of­fi­cial said, adding that the king­dom had taken a “zero-tol­er­ance” pol­icy to­ward ex­trem­ism as a driver of ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence. “This is very wor­ry­ing to us ... there’s a civil war in our re­li­gion and we’re go­ing to have to win it.”

The analysis iden­ti­fied six themes in how Al­sham­rani “chose to rep­re­sent him­self and his world­view,” in­clud­ing sup­port for rad­i­cal Is­lam and ter­ror­ism; sup­port for the Afghan Tal­iban; “ha­tred for Amer­ica and the West”; op­po­si­tion to the ex­is­tence of Is­rael; sec­tar­i­an­ism; and re­jec­tion of Saudi gov­ern­ment re­forms.


The Pen­sacola base at­tack has raised con­cerns about the vet­ting of for­eign mil­i­tary per­son­nel who train in the U.S.


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