Florida shooting: Saudi king orders cooperation with US officials

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told US President Donald Trump on Friday he has directed his security services to cooperate with US authorities investigating the deadly shooting at a Florida military base and assured him the “perpetrator of this heinous crime” does not represent the Saudi people, Saudi officials said. 

King Salman expressed “his sorrow and grief” over the shooting, the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC, said in a statement after a phone call between the two leaders.

“His Majesty affirmed that the perpetrator of this heinous crime does not represent the Saudi people, who count the American people as friends and allies,” the statement said. The king “directed Saudi security services to cooperate with the relevant American agencies to uncover information that will help determine the cause of this horrific attack.”

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A Saudi national who was attending training at the Naval Air Station Pensacola was suspected of opening fire at the airbase, killing three people and injuring a dozen others. The gunman was also killed, officials said.

It was the second deadly shooting at a US military installation this week.

Trump said he has been briefed on the incident, tweeting that his “thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this difficult time”.

Trump said he had received a phone call from King Salman who told him that “the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people”.

The motive for Friday’s shooting was under investigation.

‘A lot of questions’

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, “There is obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Force and then to be here training on our soil.”

He told reporters that “the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. They are going to owe a debt here, given that this was one of their individuals.”

The Pensacola base, which is near Florida’s border with Alabama, is a major training site for the Navy and home to its aerobatic flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels. The base employs about 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to the base’s website.

Military personnel from around the globe visit the base for flight training.

Florida navy base

The aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy arrives for exercises at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida [Handout/US Navy/Patrick Nichols] 

In recent weeks, 18 naval aviators and two aircrew members from the Royal Saudi Naval Forces were training with the US Navy, including a stint at Pensacola, according to a November 15 press release from the Navy. It was not clear if the suspected shooter was part of that delegation. 

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The delegation came under a Navy programme that offers training to US allies, known as the Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity.

A person familiar with the programme said that Saudi Air Force officers selected for military training in the United States are intensely vetted by both countries.

The Saudi personnel are “hand-picked” by their military and often come from elite families, the person said, speaking to Reuters News Agency on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak to a reporter. Trainees must speak excellent English, the person said.

Although military bases house the country’s most powerful armaments, military personnel normally are restricted from carrying weapons on base unless they are part of their daily duties. Nonetheless, US military bases have seen deadly mass shootings before, including one in Ford Hood, Texas, in 2009 that left 13 dead and one at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 that killed 12.

On Wednesday, a sailor shot three civilians at the historic Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii, killing two of them before taking his own life.

Florida shooting: Saudi king orders cooperation with US officials

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told US President Donald Trump on Friday he has directed his security services to cooperate with US authorities investigating the deadly shooting at a Florida military base and assured him the “perpetrator of this heinous crime” does not represent the Saudi people, Saudi officials said.

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