Saudi military trainees to return home after Pensacola shooting probe

At least 20 military trainees from Saudi Arabia will be returned to their home country after the conclusion of an FBI investigation into the shootings at NAS Pensacola, Fla., in December. Photo by Patrick Nichols/U.S. Navy

Jan. 13 (UPI) — At least 20 Saudi students receiving military training in the United States will be sent back to their home country following a Pentagon and FBI investigation.

The White House is expected to make an announcement early this week about expelling the students, officials familiar with the matter said.

The removal of the trainees comes after a Pentagon review of the Dec. 6 incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., in which a Saudi officer opened fire on U.S. military personnel. Three people were killed and eight were injured.

Some will be expelled from the United States because they did not inform authorities of the gunman’s extremist political views. Investigators believe he was among Saudi trainees who watched videos of other mass shootings at a party prior to the incident.

Other students have been linked to extremist online commentary and possession of child pornography. Early reports said that only 12 would leave the United States, a figure that did not include Saudi trainees at U.S. bases other than NAS Pensacola.

“In the wake of the Pensacola tragedy, the Department of Defense restricted to classroom training programs foreign military students from Saudi Arabia while we conducted a review and enhancement of our foreign student vetting procedures,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver in a statement. “That training pause is still in place while we implement new screening and security measures.”

The FBI began treating the shootings as a terrorist incident after discovering anti-American online comments posted by the shooter prior to the incident. About 850 Saudi military trainees are in the United States, and their training has been suspended indefinitely as federal investigators conduct a security review of each.

The shooter, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force, was shot to death by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators said he legally purchased his 9mm handgun, and believes he acting alone and was not part of a larger network. His online posts, referring to the United States as “a nation of evil,” surfaced after the incident.


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