World

Saudi airman radicalised before US attack

By AAP Newswire

The Saudi airman who killed three people at a US Navy base in Florida appeared to have posted criticism of US wars and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on social media hours before the shooting spree.

Federal investigators have not disclosed any motive behind the attack, which unfolded at dawn on Friday when the Saudi national is said to have begun firing a handgun inside a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a public appearance on Saturday he was not ready to label it an act of terrorism.

A vigil was held on Saturday for those wounded and killed, among them a recent Naval Academy graduate who dreamed of being a fighter pilot, according to the victim's family.

A sheriff's deputy fatally shot the gunman, authorities said, ending the second deadly attack at a US military base within a week. Within hours, Saudi Arabia's King Salman had called US President Donald Trump to extend his condolences and pledge his kingdom's support in the investigation.

Authorities confirmed the suspect was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was on the base as part of a US Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies. In an emailed statement on Saturday, the FBI named him as Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21.

The young officer was reported to have played videos of mass shootings at a dinner earlier in the week with other Saudi aviation students, according to US media reports on Saturday that cited an unnamed person briefed on the investigation.

Investigators have found no sign Alshamrani had links to international terrorist groups and think he may have radicalised on his own, the New York Times reported, citing an unidentified US official.

It said the airman first entered the US in 2018, returned to Saudi Arabia, then re-entered the US in February, and had reported for training at the base about three days before the attack.

At least three of the eight people wounded were law enforcement officers shot as they responded to the attack, officials said, including one Navy police officer and two county sheriff's deputies. They were expected to recover.

One of the dead was identified earlier Saturday by relatives as Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23. A recent graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he had arrived at Pensacola two weeks ago for flight training, his family said.

"Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own," Watson's brother, Adam Watson, wrote on Facebook on Friday. "After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable."

The Navy, in an emailed statement, named the other victims as Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, and Cameron Scott Walters, 21, both sailors studying at the base.

Six other Saudi nationals were being questioned by investigators in Florida, three of whom were seen filming the incident, the New York Times reported, citing an unidentified person briefed on the investigation.

Alshamrani appeared to have posted a justification of his planned attack in English on Twitter a few hours before it began, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online Islamist extremism.He referred to US wars in Muslim countries, writing that he hated the American people for "committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity," and criticising Washington's support for Israel.

SITE's analysis said he also quoted bin Laden, the Saudi mastermind of the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, according to SITE.