Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

King Salman expresses sorrow over 'heinous' US Navy base shooting

Three people were killed and eight injured by Saudi trainee at naval base in Florida

Emergency responders near the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, December 6, 2019. WEAR-TV via AP
Emergency responders near the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, December 6, 2019. WEAR-TV via AP

Saudi Arabia's King Salman phoned US President Donald Trump to express his sorrow over the killing of three Americans by a Saudi student at an air force base in Pensacola, Florida on Friday.

The Saudi monarch offered his condolences to the US president and the families of the victims, and wished a speedy recovery to those injured in the attack, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

King Salman also told Mr Trump that "the perpetrator of this heinous crime does not represent the Saudi people, who count the American people as friends and allies", according to statement released by the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

He ordered Saudi security services to co-operate with American agencies investigating the incident, the statement said.

Mr Trump tweeted about his call from the Saudi ruler, saying: "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."

The shooting in a classroom building at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday morning left eight people wounded, including two sheriff's deputies who responded to the attack.

The gunman, who was shot dead by police, was not officially identified.

He was armed with a Glock 9mm pistol that had been purchased locally, the New York Times reported, citing a person briefed on the initial investigation. The weapon had an extended magazine and the shooter had four to six other magazines in his possession.

In recent weeks, 18 naval aviators and two aircrew members from the Royal Saudi Naval Forces were training at Pensacola, according to the US Navy. Capt Timothy Kinsella, the commander of the base, said the gunman was an aviation trainee, one of "a couple hundred" foreign students at the base.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, also described the shooting as a heinous crime.

"The kingdom expresses its deepest condolences to the families of victims, and to the American people," he said. "We salute the bravery of those who neutralised the threat and saved lives."

Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defence Minister, said: "I extend my sincerest condolences to the families of victims of today's tragic shooting. My thoughts are with our American friends at this difficult time."

The first reports of an "active shooter" on the base reached the Escambia County sheriff's office at about 6.51am and a few minutes later a sheriff's deputy fatally shot the suspect in a classroom on the base, Sheriff David Morgan said.

The base was closed after the shooting. A US official said authorities are investigating whether the incident was an act of terrorism.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist media, said the gunman was Mohammed Al Shamrani, saying he had posted a short manifesto on Twitter that read: "I'm against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil."

"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," he wrote.

US Vice President Mike Pence tweeted: "Saddened to hear of the horrible shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola & continuing to monitor the situation."

The Pensacola base, near Florida’s border with Alabama, is a major training centre for the US Navy, employing more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to its website. It is home to a flight demonstration squadron and is an early training centre for naval pilots, known as the "cradle of naval aviation".

Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said he was "considering several steps to ensure the security of our military installations and the safety of our service members and their families".

Mr Esper said he wanted to see whether US vetting of foreign military personnel was adequate.

"I want to make sure that we're doing our due diligence to understand: What are our procedures? Is it sufficient?" he told reporters. "Are we also screening persons coming to make sure they have their life in order, their mental health is adequate."

The incident marks the second shooting at a US military base this week.

On Wednesday, an American sailor shot three civilians at the Pearl Harbour military base in Hawaii, killing two of them before committing suicide.

Military personnel are normally restricted from carrying weapons on U.S. bases unless they are part of their daily duties. Nonetheless bases have seen deadly mass shootings before, including one in Ford Hood, Texas, in 2009 that left 13 dead and one at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 that killed 12 people.

Updated: December 7, 2019 08:34 PM

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