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US Defense Secretary Says Too Soon to Label Florida Shooting as Terrorist Act

US Defense Secretary Says Too Soon to Label Florida Shooting as Terrorist Act

Sunday, 8 December, 2019 - 06:15
The main gate at Naval Air Station Pensacola is seen on Navy Boulevard in Pensacola, Florida, US March 16, 2016. (Reuters)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday it was too soon to label the shooting at the US Navy base in Florida as a terrorist act.

“I can’t say it’s terrorism at this time,” he told a gathering of top US defense and military officials, adding that the investigation needs to proceed. He declined to discuss details of the investigation so far.

Investigations are ongoing in the shooting that saw a Saudi airman open fire at three people at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. Six Saudis were held for questioning.

Federal investigators have not disclosed any motive behind the attack, which unfolded at dawn on Friday when the Saudi national is said to have begun firing a handgun inside a classroom at the base. Three people were killed in the incident. Two sheriff's deputies were injured, before one of the deputies killed the assailant. Eight others were also hurt.

Saudi officials stressed that such attacks do not reflect the values of the Saudi people.

A US official told The Associated Press Saturday that one of the three detainees recorded video outside the classroom building while the shooting was taking place. Two other Saudi students watched from a car, the official said.

Two US officials said Friday that authorities were investigating whether the attack was terrorism-related.

The FBI identified the shooter in a statement Saturday night as Mohammed Alshamrani, 21. Investigators said he was a 2nd Lt. in the Royal Saudi Air Force and was a student naval flight officer of Naval Aviation Schools Command. A US official on Friday said the FBI was examining social media posts and investigating whether he acted alone or was connected to any broader group.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, said he has directed Saudi security services to cooperate with US authorities investigating the shooting.

He telephoned US President Donald Trump expressing "his sorrow and grief" over the shooting.

The King assured him that the "perpetrator of this heinous crime" does not represent the Saudi people.

He "assured Trump of the Kingdom's full support to the United States” and "directed Saudi security services to cooperate with the relevant American agencies to uncover information that will help determine the cause of this horrific attack."

Trump said that Saudi Arabia's King had called to express condolences.

"King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences," Trump tweeted after the shooting in Florida.

"The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people," Trump added.

Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman extended his condolences by saying “my thoughts are with our American friends at this difficult time.”

“A large number of Saudi graduates of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola moved on to serve with their US counterparts in battlefronts around the world, helping to safeguard regional and global security. Today's tragic event is strongly condemned by everyone in Saudi Arabia.”

Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, described the shooting as a “heinous crime.”

“The Kingdom expresses its deepest condolences to the families of victims, and to the American people,” he said.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir also offered his “deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences” to the American people and to the families of those effected by the tragedy.

The base outside Pensacola, near Florida’s border with Alabama, is a major training site for the Navy and employs about 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to its website.

On Wednesday, a US sailor shot three civilians at the historic Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii, killing two of them before taking his own life.

Military personnel are normally restricted from carrying weapons on US bases unless they are part of their daily duties, a policy designed to reduce the risk of suicides and accidental shootings.

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