PENSACOLA, Florida — A Saudi Air Force officer opened fire in a classroom building at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola on Friday morning, a US official said, an attack that left four dead, including the assailant.
The assault was the second at a US Navy base this week and prompted a massive law enforcement response and a lockdown at the base.
The student, who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy, was a second lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force, said two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose information that had not yet been made public. The FBI and other authorities began investigating the incident to determine if it was terrorism-related.
Twelve people were hurt in the attack, including two sheriff’s deputies who were the first to respond, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. One of the deputies was shot in the arm and the other in the knee, and both were expected to recover, he said.
A US official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity identified the shooter as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Military from around the globe attend the Naval Air Station in Pensacola for flight training.
US President Donald Trump declined to say whether the shooting was terrorism-related. He tweeted his condolences to the families of the victims and noted that he had received a phone call from Saudi King Salman.
He said the king told him 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.”
King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2019
The Saudi government issued a news release echoing Trump’s remarks.
In the call with Trump the king expressed “deep sorrow” over the shooting and pledged cooperation with American officials, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
“He affirmed that the perpetrator of this heinous crime does not represent the Saudi people,” the news agency reported.
A national security expert from the Heritage Foundation warned against making an immediate link to terrorism.
“If there is some connection to terrorism, well, then that’s that,” said Charles “Cully” Stimson of the Heritage Foundation. “But let’s not assume that because he was a Saudi national in their air force and he murdered our people, that he is a terrorist.”
Stimson said it was also possible that the shooter was “a disgruntled evil individual who was mad because he wasn’t going to get his pilot wings, or he wasn’t getting the qualification ratings that he wanted, or he had a beef with somebody, or there was a girlfriend involved who slighted him.”
Florida Senator Rick Scott issued a scathing statement calling the shooting an act of terrorism “”whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable.”
Scott added that it was “clear that we need to take steps to ensure that any and all foreign nationals are scrutinized and vetted extensively before being embedded with our American men and women in uniform.”
Lucy Samford, 31, said her husband, a Navy reservist and civilian worker on the base, was about 500 yards from where the shooting happened. She said she got a call from him a little after 7 a.m. and “one of the first things out of his mouth was, ‘I love you. Tell the kids I love them. I just want you to know there’s an active shooter on base.'”
Her husband, whom she declined to identify, later told her he was OK.
NAS Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to its website. One of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases, it sprawls along the waterfront southwest of downtown Pensacola and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.
Part of the Pensacola base resembles a college campus, with buildings where 60,000 members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard receive training each year in multiple fields of aviation. A couple hundred students from countries outside the US are also enrolled in training, said Base commander Captain Tim Kinsella.
The base remained closed until further notice and those still there would be evacuated when authorities decided it was safe to do so, Kinsella said.
The base is home is home to the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, and includes the National Naval Aviation Museum, a popular regional tourist attraction.
The shooting is the second at a US naval base this week. A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.
Alex McGinley, a tattoo artist who works near the Pensacola base, said he was alerted to the shooting by one of his clients, most of whom are military personnel. He said none of his clients was among those shot.
“What kind of things go through a person’s mind to a level that makes them do something like that?” McGinley asked.