This story is developing.
Per NBC News, Federal authorities say the Saudi Air Force officer who shot his fellow students at Pensacola Air Station in Florida last December was pushed by al Qaeda to carry out the attack, which they discovered after examining a phone that he tried to destroy.
USAToday reports Federal investigators have determined that the Saudi military trainee who killed three service members during a December shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station had been in contact with the al Qaeda terrorist group, a law enforcement official said Monday.
Authorities learned of the communications after gaining access to the contents of at least one cell phone used by the shooter, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani. Until recently, investigators had been blocked from the information because of the Apple iPhone’s encrypted pass-code features.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the FBI accessed the phone or whether Apple had provided assistance, which the Justice Department had sought earlier this year.
Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray were due to discuss the case at a 11 a.m. ET briefing.
The development was first reported by the New York Times.
In January, Barr declared the fatal shooting an act of terrorism motivated by “jihadist ideology.”
Alshamrani, 21, who was part of a U.S. training program for the Saudi military, also was killed in the Dec. 6 rampage.
Investigators found that on Sept. 11, 2019, the shooter posted on social media that “the countdown has begun.” He visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City over Thanksgiving weekend, and he posted “anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi messages” on social media two hours before the attack, authorities have said.
Days after the attack, the Navy grounded more than 300 Saudi nationals who were training to be pilots. Ultimately 21 Saudi trainees were expelled from the country.
Alshamrani began his three-year course in August 2017 with English, basic aviation and initial pilot training.
He was one of 5,180 foreign students, including 852 Saudi nationals, from 153 countries in the U.S. for military training. Many operate American military hardware that foreign governments buy from the United States. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest customer for arms, and many of those are American-made.
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