Jan. 14 (UPI) — Attorney General William Barr said Monday a criminal investigation has found the Pensacola shooting last month that killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight other Americans at the Navy base was “an act of terrorism.”
Barr said at a news conference investigators found evidence that “jihadist ideology,” motivated gunman Lt. Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani, who was killed in gunfire deputies exchanged with him in the attack.
The Royal Saudi Air Force member training at the base had “anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi” posts on social media two hours before the Dec. 6 attack. Earlier posts also contributed to findings.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, al-Shamrani had visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City to those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, and he posted on social media last Sept. 11 that “the countdown has begun.”
FBI Director David Bowdich said al-Shamrani fired shots at pictures of President Donald Trump and a past U.S. president and witnesses said he made statements critical of U.S. military actions overseas.
He harbored anti-American and anti-Israel views and felt “violence was necessary,” Bowdich said.
Initial reports that al-Shamrani arrived at the Pensacola Naval Air Station accompanied by other Saudi cadets, who filmed the attack as it unfolded were inaccurate, Barr said.
Rather, he arrived at the site by himself, and other Saudi cadets who happened to be in the area took videos after the attack began. They cooperated fully with the FBI investigation, along with other Saudi cadets, Barr said in the announcement posted to the U.S. Department of Justice website.
There was no evidence of “assistance or pre-knowledge of the attack” by other Saudi military or any other foreign nationals, Barr said.
However, the investigation did find derogatory material that 21 Saudi military members in training in the United States possessed. Seventeen had social media “containing some jihadi or anti-American content,” but there was no evidence of affiliation with terrorist activity or group, Barr said. Fifteen, including some of the 17 with such material had “some kind of contact with child pornography.”
“While one of these individuals had a significant number of such images, all the rest had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by someone else or received over social media,” Barr said.
U.S. attorneys determined each of the 21 cases would not normally be charged, he added, but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia found that the material was “unbecoming an officer” and the 21 cadets have been dis-enrolled from their training and were to be returning to Saudi Arabia later Monday.
Bowdich said that al-Shamrani’s social media posts showed points similar to messages of Anwar al-Awlaqi, a radical U.S.-born Yemeni cleric tied to the al-Qaeda terror group who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
Investigators interviewed more than 500 people, including witnesses, base personnel, friends and classmates of al-Shamrani, and collected more than 42 terabytes of digital information, though ongoing issues exist with trying to obtain information from the shooter’s two iPhones.
Barr said Monday that Apple has not offered any “substantive assistance” in unlocking the shooter’s iPhones.
In a statement, Apple said it had helped FBI agents on the case by sharing relevant data in its cloud storage. Apple has said that encryption on phones safeguards millions of consumers against hackers.
Courts have yet to rule on whether companies like Apple can be forced to give law enforcement access to phones and devices.