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Saudis recall 21 cadets from Florida

China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-15 10:00
US Attorney General William Barr announces the findings of the investigation into the Dec 6 shootings in Florida during a news conference in Washington on Monday. [TOM BRENNER/REUTERS]

WASHINGTON-Saudi Arabia will withdraw 21 cadets receiving military training in the United States following a US investigation into a Saudi officer's fatal shooting of three US citizens at a Florida naval base that US Attorney General William Barr on Monday branded an act of terrorism.

The Dec 6 attack further complicated US-Saudi relations at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival. A deputy sheriff shot dead the gunman, Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, in the Pensacola, Florida, incident.

There was no evidence that Alshamrani had colluded with others, although Barr said FBI investigators had been unable to unlock his two phones to determine whom he had contacted.

"We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter's iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance," Barr said.

The attorney general said 21 of Alshamrani's colleagues were being expelled from the base's flight school after the probe found many of them had jihadist material and child porn.

Barr said one Saudi individual had "a significant number" of child pornography images, while 14 others "had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by someone else or received over social media". A total of 17-including some of those with child pornography images-had social media accounts containing some jihadi or anti-American content, Barr said.

While the material didn't rise to the level of criminal prosecution, Barr said Riyadh had "determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Saudi Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and the 21 cadets have been dis-enrolled from their training curriculum".

A Justice Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said US officials agreed with the decision to withdraw them.

They were to return to Saudi Arabia later on Monday, Barr said.

Three US sailors were killed and eight other people were wounded in the attack at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

"This was an act of terrorism," Barr said. "The evidence showed that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology. During the course of the investigation, we learned that the shooter posted a message on Sept 11 of this year stating: 'The countdown has begun.'"

Barr added that Alshamrani also visited the New York City memorial to the victims of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US-carried out by Saudi hijackers for the Islamist militant group al-Qaida-and posted anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi messages on social media, including two hours before the attack.

Reuters/AFP

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