After Florida shooting, US grounds Saudi pilots, restricts military training

By: New York Times | Miami |

Published: December 11, 2019 9:00:02 am

Pensacola Shooting, Florida shooting, US navy base shooting, us saudi ties, saudi arabia on us navy shooting, saudi aviation students FILE- In this Jan. 29, 2016 file picture reveals the doorway to the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola, Fla. (AP Photo/Melissa Nelson, File)

Written by Patricia Mazzei and Eric Schmitt

The Pentagon has suspended operational training for all Saudi military college students within the United States, indefinitely halting flight instruction, firing vary training and all different operations exterior the classroom within the wake of a taking pictures final week at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida by a member of the Saudi Royal Air Force.

The suspension will have an effect on almost 900 Saudi college students throughout the nation, the Defense Department mentioned Tuesday. Classroom instructing, together with language programs, will proceed whereas Pentagon leaders evaluate vetting procedures for all overseas military trainees. An estimated 5,200 worldwide college students within the United States shall be lined by the safety evaluate.

The “safety stand-down” was issued pending the outcomes of an FBI investigation into the taking pictures Friday that left three younger sailors lifeless and eight different folks wounded. Several lawmakers, together with Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose congressional district consists of Pensacola, had known as for a evaluate of overseas military applications and their screening course of.

The suspension of operational training for a whole bunch of Saudi military college students is a rare rebuke by the Pentagon, particularly at a time when President Donald Trump has tamped down strategies that the Saudi authorities should be held to account on an array of current points.

Even earlier than the taking pictures Friday, the White House had been combating efforts in Congress to chop military support to the Saudis, a mirrored image of anger over the persevering with conflict in Yemen and the brutal killing in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist who had been granted authorized residence within the United States.

U.S. intelligence findings carefully tie Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto chief, Mohammed bin Salman, to the killing.

Senior Defense Department officers, talking to reporters in a swiftly organized convention name Tuesday evening, insisted that suspending operational training for college kids from Saudi Arabia — the one nation singled out for a broader evaluate of safety procedures governing the worldwide military college students — could be short-term and wouldn’t upset the strategic relationship between the 2 nations.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper known as his Saudi counterpart, Khalid bin Salman, to debate the brand new limitations on Saudi military college students, who at the moment are basically restricted to classroom training like English language programs.

It was unclear whether or not the evaluate of safety and vetting procedures signifies that federal investigators have discovered one thing troubling or whether or not it was merely a precautionary measure.

Lawmakers praised the Defense Department’s motion on the Saudi trainees.

“At this point, suspending training just makes sense,” mentioned Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., a former Pentagon official. “We have to maintain the utmost, serious security standards — and obviously something has gone deeply awry.”

The Navy had introduced earlier Tuesday that about 300 Saudi aviation college students could be grounded at three bases in Florida. The Pentagon later launched a memo from David Norquist, the deputy secretary of protection, clarifying that the suspension would apply to 852 Saudis enrolled in all military training applications.

The memo described Saudi Arabia an “essential partner” that’s working carefully with the United States to analyze the taking pictures.

“The Department has trained more than 28,000 Saudi students over the life of our security cooperation relationship without serious incident,” Norquist wrote.

He gave military employees members 10 days to finish a evaluate of insurance policies for vetting overseas college students and granting entry to U.S. military bases, though the Saudi operational suspension will most definitely last more.

He mentioned the management of the varied branches of military service “may take additional security measures as they see fit.”

The newest orders got here as investigators launched new particulars about how the 21-year-old gunman, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, had acquired the weapon used within the taking pictures.

The gunman legally bought the Glock 45 9 mm handgun in late July, shortly after he had obtained a state looking license, the FBI mentioned Tuesday.

Alshamrani was issued a looking license July 11, in line with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Nine days later, he bought the handgun at a federally licensed firearms vendor in Florida.

The skill for a overseas military scholar to legally purchase a gun has come underneath scrutiny after Friday’s assault. The gunman used an prolonged journal and had 4 to 6 different magazines in his possession when he was killed by a sheriff’s deputy, an individual aware of the investigation has mentioned.

Those who travel to the United States on a nonimmigrant visa, because the gunman did, are prohibited underneath federal legislation from having a weapon or ammunition. But the legislation additionally lists a number of exceptions, together with one for these holding a sound looking license.

Alshamrani could have certified to legally purchase a gun underneath different exceptions as properly, in line with the FBI’s Jacksonville discipline workplace, which is main the investigation.

Other exceptions are included within the legislation for accredited representatives of overseas governments, distinguished overseas guests designated by the State Department, and overseas legislation enforcement officers of a pleasant authorities coming into the United States on official business.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, known as the exceptions a “loophole” in federal gun legal guidelines that must be closed.

“I’m a big supporter of the Second Amendment, but the Second Amendment applies so that we the American people can keep and bear arms,” DeSantis, a former Navy prosecutor, mentioned at a Sunday information convention in Pensacola. “But it does not apply to Saudi Arabians.”

Much stays unknown concerning the gunman and his motive, though the FBI is treating the taking pictures as a presumed act of terrorism. Investigators have obtained data that Alshamrani was lively on social media. Although they haven’t launched any specifics, the SITE Intelligence Group, which screens jihadi exercise on-line, discovered a Twitter account with a reputation matching the gunman’s criticizing the United States as “evil.”

The Pentagon heightened safety critiques at bases across the nation Monday, citing the 2 shootings that occurred final week on military bases, in Pensacola and on the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii. In the Pearl Harbor assault, the gunman fatally shot two shipyard employees earlier than killing himself.

On Tuesday, Thomas Modly, the appearing Navy secretary, awarded posthumous “wings of gold” to the three Pensacola victims, proclaiming Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson a naval aviator and Airman Mohammed Haitham and Airman Apprentice Cameron Walters naval aircrewmen. Five of the injured had been despatched residence from the hospital by Monday, with the three remaining sufferers in secure situation.

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