Date
17 January 2020
Saudi Air Force lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, accused of killing three people at a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, is seen in a military identification card photo. Photo: FBI/Handout via Reuters
Saudi Air Force lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, accused of killing three people at a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, is seen in a military identification card photo. Photo: FBI/Handout via Reuters

US grounds Saudi pilots, halts training after base shooting

The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that it is halting operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the United States until further notice after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people last week at a base in Florida, Reuters reports.

A senior US defense official, briefing Pentagon reporters on the decision, was quoted as saying that the move was intended to allow for a broader review of security procedures that would eventually apply to all of some 5,000 international military students in the United States.

Still, the safety standdown only applies to the some 850 visiting students from Saudi Arabia. The defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the shooting “suggested that there could be a particular improvement with that (nation’s) population.”

“I don’t have any evidence to suggest that there is a larger ring or larger conspiracy,” the official said, when asked what was driving the safety-standdown.

The FBI has said US investigators believe Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he attacked a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, before he was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff.

The shootings have again raised questions about the US military relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has come under heightened scrutiny in Congress over the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Still, US military leaders have sought to portray this as a localized issue which would not affect the overall US-Saudi relationship.

Navy spokeswoman Lieutenant Andriana Genualdi said the safety standdown and operational pause began on Monday for Saudi Arabian aviation students.

She said the grounding includes three different military facilities: Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field and Naval Air Station Mayport, all in Florida.

The Air Force said its groundings of Saudi aviation students also applies to additional US bases.

“Given the traumatic events, we feel it is best to keep the Royal Saudi Air Force students off the flying schedule for a short time,” the Air Force spokeswoman said.

Alshamrani was on the base as part of a US Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies. He had started training in the United States in 2017 and had been in the Pensacola area for the past 18 months, authorities said.

A group that tracks online extremism has said Alshamrani appeared to have posted criticism of US wars in predominantly Muslim countries and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Twitter hours before the shooting spree.

– Contact us at [email protected]

RC