WASHINGTON — The Saudi national who launched a terrorist attack against U.S military personnel at a Naval air base in Florida last December had ties to al Qaeda for at least five years and carefully planned the operation, the FBI and Pentagon said Monday.
The Dec. 6, 2019, terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, left three Navy personnel dead and eight others wounded.
“The evidence we’ve been able to develop from the killer’s devices shows that the Pensacola attack was actually the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation by a longtime AQAP associate,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a news conference. Wray was referring to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most active and fierce branches of the terrorist hydra.
Wray, along with Attorney General William Barr, said investigators uncovered the al Qaeda connection after the FBI broke through the encryption protecting the iPhones of Mohammed Alshamrani, the member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who conducted the terrorist attack. They said the information was helpful in conducting a recent counterterrorism operation in Yemen.
Alshamrani, who had been training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, was killed by law enforcement during the attack. Justice officials said Alshamrani’s ties to the AQAP began as far back as 2015 and were “significant.” They did not say he was carrying out a direct mission for the group.
Regardless, the link to al Qaeda means the December attack was the first any member of a foreign terrorist organization has successfully conducted on U.S. soil since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Al Qaeda was behind that attack as well. Like Alshamrani — who had been vetted by the Saudi government — 15 of the 19 perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks were citizens of Saudi Arabia; two were from the United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon, and one from Egypt.
In response to the attack, the Pentagon stopped all International Military Student operational training at U.S. installations and directed a review of all vetting and security procedures. In January additional measures for background checks and new physical security procedures were implemented.
“The new information provided by Director Wray and Attorney General Barr underscores the threats to our nation posed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and highlights the necessity of the security measures we take every day to protect the American people, our interests and our friends – as well as those that defend our nation,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“We continue to work with the FBI as they uncover more information pertaining to the terrorist, his links with al Qaeda, and the methods he used to conceal this from us,” it said. “At the same time, we continue to review our procedures to identify any additional vetting and security measures we can adopt.”