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US lawmakers criticize Saudi training program after Florida base attack

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Key US lawmakers called Sunday for a halt to a Saudi military training program after a shooting rampage at a naval base in Florida in which a Saudi officer killed three American sailors.

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US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he has ordered a review of vetting procedures while defending the training program that brought Mohammed Alshamrani to Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Alshamrani, a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, opened fire in a classroom on Friday, killing the three sailors and wounding eight other people before being shot dead by police.

Alshamrani, who was armed with a lawfully purchased Glock 9mm handgun, was reported to have posted a manifesto on Twitter before the shooting denouncing America as “a nation of evil.”

The FBI said Sunday they were investigating with the “presumption” it was an act of terrorism, as in most active shooter probes, but had yet to make a final determination.

White House National Security Advisor Robert OBrien went further, however, saying: “To me, it appears to be a terrorist attack.”

“Well have to see what the FBI investigation shows,” OBrien added, on CBSs “Face the Nation.”

The FBIs main goal, special agent-in-charge Rachel Rojas told a news conference, is to confirm whether Alshamrani “acted alone or was he a part of a larger network.”

“We currently assess there was one gunman who perpetrated this attack and no arrests have been made in this case,” she said.

US lawmakers, meanwhile, called for the Saudi training program to be halted pending the outcome of the investigation.

“I like allies. Saudi Arabias an ally, but theres something really bad here fundamentally,” Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican, said on Fox News.

“We need to suspend the Saudi program until we find out what happened here.”

In a pre-taped interview that aired on “Fox News Sunday,” Esper confirmed several Saudis had been detained, including “one or two” who filmed the shooting on their cellphones.

US media also reported that Alshamrani had shown mass shooting videos at a dinner party the night before the attack.

Rojas said a number of Saudi students who were close to Alshamrani were cooperating with investigators.

“Their Saudi commanding officer has restricted them to base, and the Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with our investigation,” she said.

Vetting

The attack has struck a live nerve in the United States with its echoes of the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which Saudi citizens accounted for 15 of the 19 hijackers that flew airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Saudi Arabia remains one of the closest US allies in the Middle East, and President Donald Trump has cultivated its controversial de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabias King Salman has denounced the shooting as a “heinous crime” and said the gunman “does not represent the Saudi people.”

But Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican whose Florida district includes the Pensacola base, warned the shooting “has to inform on our ongoing relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

Speaking on ABCs “This Week,” he called for the military training program to be halted “until we are absolutely confident in our vetting program.”

He said he told the Saudi ambassador “as clearly as I possibly could that we want no interference from the kingdom as it relates to Saudis that we have.

“And if there are Saudis thRead More – Source

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