Saudi Officer Who Killed 3 at Pensacola Had Passed Rigorous Vetting, DoD Says

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This undated photo provided by the FBI shows Mohammed Alshamrani. The Saudi student opened fire inside a classroom at Naval Air Station Pensacola before one of the deputies killed him. (FBI via AP)
This undated photo provided by the FBI shows Mohammed Alshamrani. The Saudi student opened fire inside a classroom at Naval Air Station Pensacola before one of the deputies killed him. (FBI via AP)

A young Saudi officer who killed three and wounded eight more in a shooting rampage at Naval Air Station Pensacola had passed a rigorous vetting process without setting off alarms, DoD officials said Friday.

The officials, speaking on background, said that 21-year-old Saudi Royal Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani and all other foreign military trainees are cleared first by their own countries and then subjected to a three-level screening process by U.S. Embassies in the host nations.

The applicants for training alongside U.S. troops would have their names run through databases maintained by the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security to check for criminal activity or substance abuse, the officials said in a conference call with defense reporters.

The trainees would also have to submit to a physical and psychological examination by a doctor approved by the U.S. Embassy and then pass requirements for a visa from the State Department, the officials said.

Related: Esper Calls for Major Expansion of Foreign Military Training Programs

In the case of Alshamrani, however, the screening apparently failed to turn up his exposure to jihadist ideology before coming to the U.S.

A Saudi government analysis obtained by the Washington Post showed that a Twitter account thought to have been used by Alshamrani indicated his exposure to the “extremist thought” of four radical clerics.

Since the Dec. 6 shootings at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other officials have restricted the estimated 152 Saudis at the base to classroom training and also confined about 12 of Alshamrani’s Saudi friends to quarters under monitoring by the FBI.

Esper has also ordered up a review of vetting processes for all of the more than 5,000 foreign military students currently training in the U.S. The defense officials, speaking on background, said new vetting procedures could be outlined as early as next week.

“At this time, we have no indications of additional threats” from foreign military trainees, including more than 800 Saudis at various bases nationwide, but “we are looking to increase vetting standards across the board for all students,” a defense official said.

The defense officials declined to name the bases besides Pensacola where Saudis were in training but said they were at installations of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The officials also declined to state whether Saudi students represented the largest number of foreign trainees in the U.S., or give a cost estimate of the programs.

Earlier, Army Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, who oversees the training programs as head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said the programs were of “exceptional value” to U.S. national security in terms of the “enduring relations that come along with it.”

The foreign students “are exposed to our values, our culture and our people,” and the experiences serve as “building blocks” for future relations, Hooper said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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