FBI uncovers al Qaeda link in deadly attack at Pensacola Navy air station that killed three sailors
Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray announced findings based on what investigators uncovered in terrorist's cracked cell phones.
Top law enforcement officials announced Monday that the FBI found links between an al-Qaeda operative and a Saudi Air Force cadet who opened fire in December at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, killing three sailors and wounding eight others.
Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray announced the findings at a press conference in which they credited the “relentless efforts and ingenuity of FBI technicians” for culling key leads from the killer’s locked cell phones.
Despite court-authorized search warrants, Apple refused to unlock the killer’s two iPhones, Barr and Wray said, so the FBI worked meticulously for months to crack the lockout codes.
Investigators then found that Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a Saudi Air Force cadet who was training with the Navy, had been radicalized as of 2015.
The attacks commenced early on the morning of December 6, 2019, when Alshamrani opened fire on his classmates at the Pensacola station. Local sheriffs at the time said that calls came in at 6:51 a.m., reporting an active shooter. Deputies from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office killed the attacker.
At one point during the incident, the officials said on Monday, Alshamrani disengaged from the gunfight in order to shoot one of his own cell phones.
“It was clear at the time that the phones were likely to contain very important information,” Barr said.
The Pensacola attack was the brutal culmination of years of planning by Alshamrani, Wray told reporters at the virtual news conference.
“He brought his plot here to America,” Wray said, adding that, based on the evidence contained in his iPhone, the seemingly trustworthy foreign student planned meticulously.
Alshamrani took pocket cam videos of classrooms, and wrote a will, Wray said. “He was helping the organization make the most it could of his murders.”
Now, the two law enforcement officials said, U.S. authorities are making use of what they found on the unlocked phones.
Investigators are continuing to “exploit evidence” contained in the phones, Wray said.