US investigators probe Saudi attacker’s motive for Florida navy base shooting

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The attacker was in aviation training at the base outside Pensacola. (AFP)
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Joshua Kaleb Watson died from his wounds after helping direct emergency services to the attacker. (Facebook)
Updated 08 December 2019

US investigators probe Saudi attacker’s motive for Florida navy base shooting

  • US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says it's too soon to label the attack as 'terrorism'
  • SITE Intelligence Group says shooter appears to have posted a justification of the attack on Twitter

LONDON: The US Defense Secretary said Saturday he was not prepared at this point to label as “terrorism” the shooting dead of three people at a US Navy base by a Saudi airman.

His comments come after a group that monitors online extremism said the shooter posted criticism of US wars hours before carrying out the attack.

“No, I can't say it's terrorism at this time,” Mark Esper said, adding he believed investigators needed to be allowed to do their work.

The US authorities have not officially named the attacker or given a motive for the shooting inside a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida on Friday. 

However, he has been widely identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force. He was shot and killed by police at the scene. Eight people were injured.

King Salman has led Saudi Arabia’s widespread condemnation of the shooting and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

According to SITE Intelligence Group,  Alshamrani appeared to have posted a justification of the attack in English on Twitter a few hours before it began.

He referred to US wars in the Middle East and criticized Washington’s support for Israel, SITE's analysis said. He also quoted the former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to answer questions about the account, Reuters reported.

 

 

A US official told AP that the FBI was examining social media posts and investigating whether he acted alone or was connected to any broader group.

The base outside Pensacola, near Florida's border with Alabama, is a major training site for the Navy and employs about 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to its website.

The attacker was in aviation training at the base, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference.

Relatives identified one of the dead as Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, who had arrived at Pensacola two weeks ago for flight training.

“Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own,” his brother, Adam Watson, wrote on Facebook on Friday. “After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable.”

About 100 people gathered for a vigil on Saturday, where Chip Simmons, chief deputy in the Escombia County Sheriff's office, recounted being one of the first on the scene, which he said was littered “with glass and blood, with killed and wounded lying on the floors.”

Condemnation of the attacks continued to pour in from Saudi officials and other organizations on Saturday.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) the shooter did not represent the tolerant Islamic values of the Saudi people and all Muslims who believe in “tolerance and moderation.”

The secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL) Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa said that the attack was “a horrific crime” that does not have a religion or nationality.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh also said the crime did not represent the Saudi people.

*With Reuters 


Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

Updated 08 August 2020

Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

  • Remains of four who died in Tuesday’s massive blast in Beirut also to be repatriated

MANILA: The Philippines will soon be sending a chartered flight to Lebanon to bring back Filipinos impacted by a massive explosion at the port of Beirut as early as next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday.

“The DFA is paying P15,000,000 ($305,643) from its funds for a chartered Qatar Air flight to repatriate from Beirut. The Philippine Embassy in Beirut is negotiating it and disbursing the amount. Aug. 16 is [the date set for] arrival,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said, adding that the flight will also bring home the remains of four Filipinos who died in Tuesday’s blast.

Around 400 Filipinos from Lebanon are expected to return following the catastrophic explosion, which decimated the Lebanese capital.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Sarah Lou Arriola said that President Rodrigo Duterte was responding to the “clamor of Filipinos in Lebanon” and that the “chartered flight is the most concrete, immediate and timely assistance” that the DFA could provide given the current situation there.

Reports state that the deadly explosion was caused by a cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at a warehouse in the port of Beirut for years. 

The odorless chemical is commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer but is also used to make powerful bombs.

“With ground operations clearing more area and embassy personnel receiving additional reports, the department is taking in new inputs with regard to the status of the Filipino community in the country,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Data released by the DFA placed the number of Filipinos impacted at 48, with 42 wounded, four dead, and two missing.

“By day’s end yesterday, the number of injured oversees Filipino workers stands at 42, an increase of 11 from the previous report,” Arriola said.

Two of the wounded remained in critical condition and were being monitored at the Rizk Hospital.

“We were also alerted that another Filipino was reported missing, increasing the number to two. The number of Filipino fatalities, meanwhile, remains at four,” she added.

The DFA said that, earlier, it had expected the number of affected Filipinos to increase considering the magnitude of the Beirut destruction.

Even before the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the DFA had begun its repatriation activities from Lebanon to limit the worsening condition of Filipinos in the country due to economic woes. It has repatriated at least 1,508 Filipinos from Lebanon since December 2019.