Pensacola naval base shooting that left 3 dead presumed to be terrorism, FBI says

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(NBC) – While the FBI is presuming the fatal shooting of three at a Pensacola, Florida, naval base on Friday was terrorism, they have yet to declare an official motive.

In a Sunday afternoon press conference, Rachel L. Rojas, FBI special agent in charge of the Jacksonville division, said federal, state, and local authorities are investigating the attack by suspect Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who was in a training program at Naval Air Station Pensacola. He was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the Friday morning attack.

The dead were identified by the U.S. Navy late Saturday as aviation students Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Coffee, Alabama; Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida; and Airmen Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia.

The main goal of the investigation as it currently stands is to find out if Alshamrani acted alone or if he was part of a “larger network,” but authorities stressed Sunday that the community is safe and they do not suspect any other immediate or direct threats.

“This is our chance to get this right and I’m going to take my time,” Rojas said about the investigation.

Authorities are also working to discern if an ideology was a motivating factor in the attack, and are “working with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism,” Rojas said.

Agencies will continue to conduct interviews to learn more about the shooter.

Alshamrani had invited three Saudi flight students to dinner in the past week and showed them videos of mass shootings, but investigators believe they had nothing to do with the attack. Rojas said Sunday that no arrests have been made in the case.

“There are a number of Saudi students who were close to the shooter and continue to cooperate in this investigation,” Rojas said. All international students on the Pensacola base are currently accounted for, and Rojas thanked Saudi Arabian officials for their cooperation in this investigation. She added the Saudi commanding officer has “restricted” other Saudi students to their base.

Although non-citizens are normally prohibited from buying handguns, but since Alshamrani had a valid hunting license, he used a loophole to legally purchase his weapon from a dealer in Pensacola, law enforcement sources told NBC News on Saturday.

Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said the suspect had been scheduled to complete a three-year U.S. Air Force Foreign Military Sales training program, funded by Saudi Arabia, in August.

Authorities believe a social media post critical of U.S. support for Israel and claiming America is anti-Islam belongs to Alshamrani. The post, which appeared before the shooting, is no longer live.

Law enforcement sources say investigators believe the shooter returned to Saudi Arabia after starting his U.S. training in 2017, and when he returned in February, he stopped socializing and going out as much with the three friends.

Eight people were injured in the attack, in addition to the three killed, including two local sheriff’s deputies who exchanged gunfire with the shooter.

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