NAS Pensacola shooting was 'act of terrorism' as US expels Saudi nationals training there, Barr says

The shooting carried out by a Saudi aviation student at Naval Air Station Pensacola in December was an “act of terrorism,” Attorney General William Barr said Monday as authorities released their findings on an investigation into the attack.

Barr said the gunman, identified as Saudi Arabian Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was "motivated by jihadist ideology." His comments come as the U.S. is expelling 21 Saudi nationals who live in America and, like Alshamrani, trained with the U.S. military at facilities including NAS Pensacola.

Barr added that Alshamrani, during last year's anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, also posted a message online that "the countdown has begun" and later traveled to New York City to visit the 9/11 Memorial on Thanksgiving weekend.

Alshamrani ultimately ended up killing three U.S. sailors and severely wounding eight other Americans in the Dec. 6 attack, Barr said.

The NAS Pensacola shooter was identified as Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who was a student naval flight officer of Naval Aviation Schools Command. (FBI)

Many of the 21 cadets who are being expelled had contact with child pornography and possessed jihadist or anti-American material, Barr said.

The revelation comes after a law enforcement source told Fox News earlier in the day that "more than a dozen" Saudi nationals who were part of the training program -- who have ties to extremist groups -- were set to be sent back home. Those individuals are not linked to the Pensacola shooting though, the source added.

NAS Pensacola is home to the Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity's International Training Center, which the Navy says was “established in 1988 to meet the aviation-specific training needs of international officers and enlisted students from allied nations.”

"Immersing international students in our U.S. Navy training and culture helps build partnership capacity for both the present and for the years ahead," Cmdr. Bill Gibson, the center’s officer in charge, said in 2017. "These relationships are truly a win-win for everyone involved."

The majority of the hundreds of foreign aviation students who have participated in the program are from Saudi Arabia, the Navy says. The Naval training program has about 1,500 pilots in total.

Saudis have received training at the Pensacola site since the 1970s, with as many as 20 students from the Middle Eastern country in any given class, sources told Fox News. Many of the students are often from the Royal Family, putting pressure on officials to pass pilots through the training program in an attempt to preserve diplomacy with the U.S. ally.

Barr hailed the program Monday, describing the Royal Saudi Air Force as an "important military partner and has long had a training relationship with the United States.”

The shooting at NAS Pensacola also prompted a group of U.S. Navy instructor pilots to ask top military brass for permission to arm themselves.

One of the shooting victims was the captain of the U.S. Naval Academy rifle team, an “excellent marksman,” according to his brother.

“It’s so stupid that on a military base, the shooter was allowed to roam free for so long,” one instructor pilot told Fox News in December.

Two pilots said the Saudi shooter had 10 minutes to carry out his deadly assault on defenseless Navy sailors at the “API” -- aviation pre-flight indoctrination -- building.

Alshamrani was shot and killed by a deputy from the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.

Earlier this week, FBI asked Apple to help extract data from two iPhones that belonged to the gunman.

Investigators have been trying to access the two devices — an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 5 — but have been unable to access them because the phones are locked and encrypted, according to a letter from the FBI’s general counsel, Dana Boente. The FBI has received a court authorization to search the phones and the devices have been sent to the bureau’s lab in Quantico, Virginia, he said.

“We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s phones," Barr said Monday. "So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance.”

Apple said in a statement that it has already provided investigators with all the relevant data held by the company and would continue to support the investigators.

Fox News' Vandana Rambaran, Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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