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FBI Uncovers Link Between al Qaeda and Naval Station Shooter

The FBI uncovered a connection between al Qaeda and a Royal Saudi Air Force member who killed three people and injured eight at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida on 6 December 2019.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the shooter, Mohammed Alshamrani, was a terrorist associated with a Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed responsibility for the attack in February, CNN reports. Wray said Alshamrani was “more than inspired” by AQAP, and had been in contact with terrorist operatives for years—possibly as far back as 2015.

In a press conference Monday, Wray said that the FBI had gathered evidence from Alshamrani’s two smartphones that showed he had been coordinating planning and tactics with AQAP, talking about plans to carry out a “special operation” for them.

“The phones contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani’s significant ties to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney General William Barr in the press conference. “We now have a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months, and days leading up to the attack.”

According to the FBI, the gunman was radicalized before arriving in Florida for a three-year aviation course the U.S. Navy hosts for allied foreign servicemen, the BBC notes. Alshamrani began his course with the U.S. Navy in August 2017.

Wray told reporters that the phones’ evidence had yielded valuable information outside the Pensacola shooting investigation, leading directly to a U.S. counterterrorism operation in Yemen.

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