WASHINGTON, D.C. (AFP) – A Saudi air force trainee opened fire Friday, December 6 at a U.S. naval base, killing three people before being shot dead by police, with the Saudi king quickly offering his condolences to President Donald Trump.
The shooting, which took place in a classroom building at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, left eight people injured including two sheriff’s deputies who responded to the attack.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the shooter was from Saudi Arabia.
“There’s obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi air force and then to be here training on our soil,” DeSantis told a press conference.
Friday’s attack invoked a parallel to the 9/11 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia and some them attended flight school in Florida, though there is as of yet no evidence of any connection in motive or inspiration.
“Obviously the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. And I think they are going to owe a debt here given that this is one of their individuals,” DeSantis said.
Commanding officer Timothy Kinsella said the shooter – whose name authorities declined to release – was an aviation trainee, one of “a couple hundred” foreign students present at the base.
“King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolence sand give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida,” Trump tweeted.
“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.”
Police received their first call about the shooting shortly before 7:00 am (1200 GMT), Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.
One of the responding deputies eventually killed the attacker, who used a handgun.
“Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie,” Morgan said. “You don’t expect this to happen.”
Kinsella said the base’s security forces first responded to the shooting before outside police agencies arrived.
The facility, made up mostly of classrooms, was shut down until further notice.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene as police rushed to respond.
Federal agencies are investigating, authorities said, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Mass shootings and the military
Just two days earlier, a U.S. sailor fatally shot two people and wounded a third at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii before taking his own life.
The Pensacola Naval Air Station hosts 16,000 military personnel and more than 7,000 civilians, and is home to a flight demonstration squadron.
It is an early training center for naval pilots, and is known as the “cradle of naval aviation.”
The base is the center for the U.S. Navy foreign military training programs, established in 1985 specifically for Saudi students before being expanded to other nationalities.
Saudi Arabia has long been a major U.S. ally in the Middle East due to Washington’s regional security interests and the country’s large oil reserves.
While mass shootings in the United States are common, those at military facilities are rare.
In July 2015, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez carried out an attack at two military installations in Tennessee that killed four Marines and a sailor, with the FBI concluding that the violence was inspired by a “foreign terrorist group.”
Two years earlier, Aaron Alexis killed 12 people and wounded eight others at the Washington Navy Yard, just two miles (three kilometers) from the U.S. Capitol building, before being shot dead by officers.
Four years before that, Major Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others at Fort Hood. Hasan was considered a “lone wolf” who supported the terror network Al-Qaeda.