US to expel a dozen Saudi military trainees after Pensacola naval base shooting

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Saudi Arabia will withdraw 21 cadets receiving military training in the United States following a US investigation into a Saudi officer’s fatal shooting Americans at a Florida naval base.
An FBI photo shows police tape stretching across a street near a building after a shooting incident at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - About a dozen Saudi students training alongside the US military in the United States will be sent back to Saudi Arabia after a review that stemmed from the killing of three American service members at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, last month, according to a US official.

The review, first reported by CNN, did not find evidence that the Saudi students aided the gunman, who was himself a Saudi trainee, in the Dec 6 shooting, the official said. But some were found to have ties to extremist movements, and others were found to possess pornographic material, something forbidden in the kingdom.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Robert O'Brien, the national security adviser, did not provide any specific reasons for the expulsion of members of the Saudi military, citing an "abundance of caution" after the shooting, which also wounded eight.

"We're being very careful," O'Brien said.

"Obviously, Pensacola showed that there had been errors in the way that we've vetted."

Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday on the CBS programme Face The Nation that the military was moving to address those lapses.

"I've signed out directives that address enhanced screening of all of our foreign students that address credentialing going forward, weapons policies, et cetera," Esper said.

"So we're doing everything we can."

He declined to comment on the investigation.

The gunman, 2nd Lieutenant Mohammed Alshamrani, was killed at the scene of the attack by a sheriff's deputy. He had arrived in the United States in 2017, taking language classes in Texas before starting strike-fighter training in Florida.

Officials believe he may have been influenced as early as 2015 by extremist religious figures. He was said to have shown videos of mass shootings at a dinner party before carrying out the attack and had visited several tourist sites in New York alongside other Saudi trainees.

After the attack, the Pentagon in December suspended all operational training for nearly 900 Saudi students across the country and ordered a full review for the thousands of international military personnel from more than 150 countries training alongside the US military.

Although helpful in building military relationships with countries around the world, the training programmes have long been scrutinised for the vetting and security issues that often surround the training.

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