On December 10th, the US Department of Defense announced that it is stopping operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the US until further notice.
This followed what is viewed as a terror attack in which a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people and wounded eight more.
Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, opened fire in a classroom at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida on December 6th, killing three American sailors and wounding eight other people before being shot dead by police.
The decision to suspend training includes the grounding of upwards of 300 Saudi Arabian military aviation students.
An unnamed Pentagon official was cited by Al Jazeera claiming that the move was aimed at allowing a broader review of security procedures that would eventually apply to all of some 5,000 international military students in the US.
Currently, safety stand-down only applies to the approximately 850 visiting students from Saudi Arabia.
Navy spokeswoman Lieutenant Andriana Genualdi said the safety stand-down and operational pause began on December 9th for Saudi Arabian aviation students.
She said the grounding included three different military facilities: Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field, and Naval Air Station Mayport, all in Florida state.
“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,” Genualdi said.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed a strengthening of the vetting procedures for foreign military students studying in the United States and ordered a review of current vetting procedures.
“I direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)) to take immediate steps to strengthen personnel vetting for International Military Students (IMS), and to complete a review within 10 days of policies and procedures for screening foreign students and granting access to our bases,” Esper said in a memo to Pentagon.
“These efforts will seek to more closely align IMS vetting procedures with those we apply to U.S. personnel,” he added. “With respect to specific training programs and personnel under their cognizance, the Secretaries of the Military Departments may take additional security measures as they see fit.”
Esper said that the Pentagon is working closely with the Saudi government in its response to the shooting incident.
US President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman on and with Saudi King Salman.
Trump said that the king and the Saudi people were “devastated” after the incident.
“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, who love the American people so much,” Trump said.
He even suggested that the Saudi Arabian royal family would provide financial assistance to the families of the victims.
“The King will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones. He feels very strongly,” the president. “I think they’re going to help out the families very greatly.”
The White House said in a statement that the president expressed appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s alliance and their assistance in the investigation during the call with the Crown Prince.
“The Crown Prince reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to working with the United States to prevent a horrific attack like the Pensacola shooting from ever happening again. The President thanked the Crown Prince for Saudi Arabia’s assistance with the investigation and continued partnership,” the statement said.
The FBI is investigating the incident as a terror attack.
“We are, as we do in most active-shooter investigations, working with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism,” Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville division, said.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Terrorism Probe Opened After Pensacola Shooter IDed As Saudi National Mohammed Alshamrani; Was There For Pilot Training
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