FBI breaks into Pensacola shooter's iPhone, finds al-Qaeda link

The FBI cracked the iPhone encryption of the Royal Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three American sailors in a December attack at a US naval base in Florida and found evidence linking him to Al-Qaeda, Attorney General William Barr said on Monday.
The coffin of one of the people killed in the attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The coffin of one of the people killed in the attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The FBI was able to break the encryption on iPhones belonging to the shooter in December's attack at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, and discovered he had contact with a suspected al-Qaeda operative, according to a person familiar with the development.

Success getting into the phones heads off a confrontation - at least for now - with Apple in a continuing fight that pits the needs of law enforcement against the privacy of phone users. The alleged link to al-Qaeda is significant because it suggests the terrorist organisation is still able to encourage, and possibly direct, operations in the US almost two decades after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

The Trump administration asked Apple in January for help unlocking a pair of iPhones belonging to the shooter, Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force. Alshamrani was killed by law enforcement responding to the attack.

Attorney General William Barr, who has scheduled a news conference on Monday (May 18) to discuss the case, previously said the the shooting rampage that killed three sailors was an act of terrorism. The attack frayed US relations with Saudi Arabia, which removed 21 of its cadets from military training in the US in response.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers in February the bureau had reconstructed an iPhone belonging to the shooter but still couldn't access the encrypted data on the device.