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FBI Says It's Investigating Shooting At Florida Naval Base As Possible Act Of Terror


There is still much we don't know about the deadly shooting at a Florida naval base last Friday. We do know that three young men died. We know that the shooter was a Saudi national. The FBI says it's investigating the shooting as a possible act of terror, but their work is ongoing.

For more, we turn to our Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Welcome to the studio.


CORNISH: What else have you learned about the FBI investigation?

BOWMAN: Well, it's ongoing. We didn't get any FBI update today, but over the weekend, FBI officials said the presumption is that it's an act of terrorism. Now, there have been no arrests made. Twelve Saudi nationals at the Pensacola base are restricted to the facility. I'm told Saudi lawyers have arrived to help them, and a U.S. Navy Muslim chaplain has been sent to meet with the senior Saudi officer at Pensacola.

So Audie, there are no indications at this point that the shooter, Mohammed Alshamrani, had any help. I'm told he did watch mass shooting videos before the attack, but so have individuals in the past involved in shootings. Officials are walking away from reports that other Saudi nationals were in some way involved by taking iPhone videos. One official tells me it could have been just a typical - you see something odd, and you pull out your phone.

CORNISH: In the meantime, I need a little more context here because help - we need to know why Saudi service members were in the U.S., how many there are. What is this relationship?

BOWMAN: Well, there are more than 800 Saudi military forces training in the U.S., about 150 at Pensacola. And Audie, there are more than 5,000 from other countries involved in various training activities across the United States. The U.S. has a long-standing relationship with Saudi and many countries in training their militaries, having them attend U.S. war colleges. I've seen them all over the country.

And the idea is, since you will likely have to fight and work with them at some point on the ground in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, naval missions, air surveillance missions, you want to get to know them, work with U.S.-made equipment, standard practices, proper behavior and the like. It also gives the U.S. military a chance to get to know up-and-coming leaders as well. For example, General Sisi, the Egyptian president, graduated from the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

CORNISH: What has the Department of Defense said since Friday's events?

BOWMAN: Well, Defense Secretary Mark Esper call for review of the vetting procedures for foreign nationals. We don't know what he has in mind. At this point, the vetting seems to be strong. The foreign officers are closely scrutinized before coming to the U.S. Esper did talk on one of the Sunday talk shows about the need for such international military programs. Let's listen.


MARK ESPER: These types of programs exchanges are very important to our national security. We have something that our potential adversaries, such as Russia and China, don't have, which is an elaborate system of alliances and partnerships.

BOWMAN: Now, this is unusual - the shooting, you know, taken was - at the hands of a foreign officer. The only problems I've seen in the past with foreign military forces coming here is, at times, they go AWOL, especially with Afghans, because they simply don't want to go back home.

CORNISH: Will this shooting impact the Trump administration's plans to send more American troops to the Middle East?

BOWMAN: No, not in any way. I don't think that has any bearing on the likely decision to send thousands more U.S. troops to the Middle East. That has everything to do with keeping an eye on Iran, preventing any possible Iranian attacks on U.S. forces, facilities or those of U.S. allies. I'm told these troops include air defenses, maybe more aircraft, surveillance drones. And they usually operate from U.S. bases in the region or just on U.S. ships.

CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Tom, thanks for your reporting.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROHNE'S "MERU FT. KORESMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

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