The Saudi gunman who killed three people at the Pensacola Naval Air Station had apparently gone on Twitter shortly before the shooting to blast US support of Israel and accuse the United States of being anti-Muslim, a US official said on Sunday as the FBI confirmed it is operating on the assumption that it was a terrorist attack.
Flowers and a message are left on the entrance bridge after a member of the Saudi Air Force visiting the United States for military training was the suspect in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, in Pensacola, Florida, US, on Dec 6, 2019. (Photo: Agencies)
The FBI is also trying to establish whether the killer, 2nd Lieutenant Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone or was part of a larger plot.
Alshamrani, who was killed by a sheriff's deputy during the rampage at a classroom building on Friday, was undergoing flight training at Pensacola, where members of foreign military forces routinely receive instruction.
"We are, as we do in most active-shooter investigations, work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism," said Rachel J.Rojas, the special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Jacksonville.
Authorities believe the gunman made social media posts criticizing the US under a user handle similar to his name, but federal law enforcement officials are investigating whether he authored the words or just posted them, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Also, investigators believe the killer had visited New York City, including the Rockefeller Center, days before the shooting and are working to determine the purpose of the trip, the official said.
All foreign students at the Pensacola base have been accounted for, no arrests have been made, and the community is under no immediate threat, Rojas said at a news conference. A Saudi commanding officer has ordered all students from the country to remain at one location at the base, authorities said.
'Act of terrorism'
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the investigation was proceeding under "the presumption that this was an act of terrorism", and he called for better vetting of foreigners allowed into the US for training on US bases.
Speaking at a news conference on Sunday, DeSantis said the gunman had a social media trail and a "deep-seated hatred of the United States".
He said he thought such an attack could have been prevented with better vetting.
Earlier in the week of the shooting, Alshamrani hosted a dinner party where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings, another US official said on Saturday.
Alshamrani used a Glock 9 mm weapon that had been purchased legally in Florida, Rojas said. DeSantis questioned whether foreigners should continue to be allowed under federal law to buy guns in the US and called it a "federal loophole".
US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said on CBS' Face the Nation that the shooting looked like "terrorism or akin to terrorism". But he cautioned that the FBI was still investigating.
The US has long had a robust training program for Saudis, providing assistance in the US and in the kingdom. More than 850 Saudis are in the US for training activities. They are among more than 5,000 foreign students from 153 countries in the US going through military training.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called Trump on Sunday and expressed his condolences and support for the families of the victims of the Florida naval base shooting, according to the state news agency.
The crown prince said Riyadh would cooperate with Washington and provide all information that would help the investigations.