The Saudi student who fatally shot three people at a U.S. naval base in Florida hosted a dinner party earlier in the week where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings, a U.S. official told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Officials investigating the deadly attack were working Saturday to determine whether it was motivated by terrorism, as both President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated that they would review policies governing foreign military training in the United States.
Family members on Saturday identified one of the victims as a 23-year-old recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who alerted first responders to where the shooter was even after he had been shot several times.
“Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own,” Adam Watson wrote on Facebook. “He died a hero and we are beyond proud but there is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled.”
A U.S. official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Friday identified the shooter as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The official also said the FBI was examining social media posts and investigating whether he acted alone or was connected to any broader group.
The shooter opened fire inside a classroom at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday, killing three people and wounding two sheriff’s deputies, one in the arm and one in the knee, before one of the deputies killed him. Eight others were also hurt. Both deputies were expected to survive.
On Friday evening, the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist media, claimed they had tracked a Twitter account belonging to Alshamrani which featured a disturbing manifesto written just hours before the shooting.
‘I’m against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil,’ it read.
‘I’m not against you for just being American, I don’t hate you because your freedoms, I hate you because every day you supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity,’ Alshamrani wrote.
The Twitter account that posted the manifesto – which also condemned US support for Israel and included a quote from Al-Qaeda’s deceased leader, the Saudi Osama bin Laden – has now been suspended.
Meanwhile six other Saudi nationals were arrested near the base shortly after the attack, as investigators began to probe a terror link.
Three of the six were seen filming the entire incident as it unfolded, a source told The New York Times on Friday evening.
No officials have yet stated whether any of them were students inside the classroom where the shooting occurred.
The official who spoke Saturday said one of the three students who attended the dinner party hosted by the attacker recorded video from outside the classroom building while the shooting was taking place. The official spoke on condition of anonymity after being briefed by federal authorities. Two other Saudi students watched from a car, the official said.
The official said 10 Saudi students were being held on the base Saturday while several others were unaccounted for.
Two U.S. officials identified the student as a second lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force, and said Friday that authorities were investigating whether the attack was terrorism-related. They spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose information that had not yet been made public.
President Donald Trump declined to say whether the shooting was terrorism-related. Trump tweeted his condolences to the families of the victims on Friday and noted that Saudi King Salman had reassured him in a telephone call that the shooter “in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.”
But in comments echoing those made earlier by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Trump said Saturday that he would review policies governing foreign military training in the U.S.
The U.S. has long had a robust training program for Saudis, providing assistance in the U.S. and in the kingdom. A couple hundred students from countries outside the U.S. are enrolled in training at the Pensacola base, said Base commander Capt. Tim Kinsella.
“This has been done for many decades,” Trump said. “I guess we’re going to have to look into the whole procedure. We’ll start that immediately.”
The shooting has shined a spotlight on the sometimes rocky relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom is still trying to recover from the killing last year of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi intelligence officials and a forensic doctor killed and dismembered Khashoggi on Oct. 2, 2018, just as his fiancée waited outside the diplomatic mission.
Naval Air Station Pensacola is one of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases. It sprawls along the waterfront southwest of the city’s downtown and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.
Part of the base resembles a college campus, with buildings where, in addition to foreign students, 60,000 members of the U.S. Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard train each year in multiple fields of aviation.
Kinsella said the base would remain closed until further notice.
Residents of Pensacola mourned the attacks and offered their condolences to the affected members of the community.
Joshua Watson was being praised as a hero by his family.
Adam Watson said his little brother was able to make it outside the classroom building to tell authorities where the shooter was after being shot “multiple” times. “Those details were invaluable,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Watson’s father, Benjamin Watson, was quoted by the Pensacola News Journal as saying that his son was a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot. He said he had reported to Pensacola two weeks ago to begin flight training. “He died serving his country,” Benjamin Watson said.
The shooting is the second at a U.S. naval base in one week. A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.