The Saudi pilot who killed three people when he opened fire on a Florida Navy installation last month was inspired by jihadist ideology, the United States attorney general said, calling the attack "an act of terrorism."
Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old Royal Saudi Air Force member, shared jihadi and anti-U.S. military posts on social media, Attorney General William Barr said in a Monday press conference on the investigation into the Dec. 6 attack. Some of those posts were shared within two hours of the attack.
The shooter also visited the 9/11 memorial site in New York over Thanksgiving weekend and posted a message on the 18th anniversary of those attacks stating that "the countdown has begun," Barr said.
"The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology," he said.
David Bowdich, the FBI's deputy director, said that Alshamrani fired at photos of President Donald Trump and at least one other former commander in chief during the attack. The Saudi officer also made statements during the attack that were critical of American actions overseas, Bowdich said.
Ensign Joshua K. Watson, Airman Mohammed S. Haitham and Airman Apprentice Cameron S. Walters were killed in the attack. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly posthumously awarded the three aviation trainees the Wings of Gold in honor of their heroism and sacrifice.
The attack, which wounded eight others, lasted 15 minutes, Bowdich said. Naval security forces engaged the shooter within eight minutes. Alshamrani was ultimately killed by law enforcement personnel.
At the crime scene, Bowdich said they recovered a semiautomatic handgun with an extended magazine, several ammunition magazines and approximately 180 rounds of ammunition. He confirmed that Alshamrani purchased the weapon used in the attack lawfully in Florida in July 2019.
"It was purchased under a hunting license exception," Bowdich said. "This exception allows non-immigrant visa holders who otherwise are not permitted to buy firearms or ammunition to purchase them if they have a valid state-issued hunting license permit or other required documentation."
The fatal incident prompted a review of the program that allows international troops to train on military installations. Barr said the investigation shows Alshamrani acted alone despite early reports that other Saudi troops had assisted in or recorded the attack.
"They fully cooperated in the investigation, as did all other Saudi cadets who were interviewed by the FBI at the base and in other bases around the country," he said.
In the course of the investigation, though, Barr said officials identified 21 members of the Saudi military who had inappropriate materials and will be shipped back to their country this week.
Seventeen of the cadets had jihadi or anti-American content on their computers, Barr said.
"However, there was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group," the attorney general added.
Fifteen of the Saudi trainees -- including some who'd been found to have the jihadi or anti-American materials -- were also found to have had "some kind of contact with child pornography," Barr said.
One was found to have a significant number of child pornography images, he said, while the rest had one or two photos that had been posted in a chat room or sent to them via social media.
"The relevant U.S. attorneys' offices independently reviewed each of the 21 cases involving derogatory information and determined that none of them would in the normal course result in federal prosecution," Barr said. "However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force and in the Royal Navy and the 21 cadets have been disenrolled from their training curriculum in the U.S. military and will be returning to Saudi Arabia later today."
Barr defended the program that allows foreign troops to train at U.S. military bases, calling the partnerships "critically important to our country." He later added that the vetting on international troops coming into the U.S. should be improved before those personnel arrive in the U.S.
"I wouldn't suggest or speculate that improved vetting would necessarily have prevented this particular event, but I do think it's clear -- and I think the department of defense agrees -- that we do have to improve our vetting procedures," Barr said. "And they are in the process of doing that."