More than a dozen Saudi servicemen to be expelled from US | World Defense

More than a dozen Saudi servicemen to be expelled from US

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First on CNN: More than a dozen Saudi servicemen to be expelled from US after review of December shooting at Naval Air Station
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More than a dozen Saudi servicemen training at US military installations will be expelled from the United States after a review that followed the deadly shooting last month at a Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, multiple sources told CNN.
The Saudis are not accused of aiding the 21-year-old Saudi Air Force second lieutenant who killed three American sailors in the December shooting, two sources said, but some are said to have connections to extremist movements, according to a person familiar with the situation.
A number are also accused of possessing child pornography, according to a defense official and the person familiar with the situation. Spokespeople for the FBI and Justice Department declined to comment. The US Navy referred CNN to the Department of Defense, which has not yet responded to a request for comment.
About a dozen Saudi trainees at the Pensacola base had been confined to their quarters as the FBI investigated the shooting as a potential terror attack, and the Pentagon initiated a review of all Saudi military trainees in the country, numbering around 850 students.
 

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multiple sources told CNN.
CNN knows how to divert attention from the current development on the political stage. I have not heard anything yet as a Saudi familiar with the situation.
 

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NATIONAL SECURITY
U.S. Officials: More Than 20 Saudi Students To Be Expelled In Wake Of Fla. Shooting
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January 12, 20201:01 PM ET
Bobby Allyn
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An Air Force team moves a transfer case containing the remains of one of the young sailors killed after a Saudi military student opened fire at Naval Air Station Pensacola last month. Officials are expected to soon announce that about 20 Saudi military students will be expelled from the U.S.
Cliff Owen/AP
Updated 8:38 p.m. Sunday ET
The Trump administration is planning to announce on Monday that more than 20 Saudi students receiving military training in the United States will be sent back to their home country, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
The expulsions come in the wake of a Pentagon review of the Saudi officer who opened fire last month at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., leaving three young sailors dead and wounding eight others.
Earlier reports indicated that about 12 Saudi trainees would be kicked out of the country. However, those reports did not include Saudis who will be expelled from military bases other than Naval Air Station Pensacola, according to the U.S. officials who spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity.
The Saudis who will be removed from the country raised a number of concerns among federal investigators, the officials said.
Some Saudi trainees failed to alert authorities about the shooter's extremist leanings. Investigators believe the gunman and other Saudi trainees watched videos of other mass shootings at a party before the attack.
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Some Saudis are being expelled because they viewed child pornography, according to the officials. Other Saudi officers in the U.S. were involved in extremist online chat rooms, according to one of the officials.
The shooting prompted the Pentagon to suspend operational training of all Saudi Arabian military students in the U.S. indefinitely, as federal investigators conduct a security review of the some 850 military students in the U.S. from Saudi Arabia.
The Justice Department, which has been investigating the incident as an act of terrorism, is planning on Monday to publicly announce the Saudi removals and the results of its criminal investigation into the Pensacola shooting.
In Saudi Arabia, news of the expulsions is expected to be greeted as unwelcome news, according to Daniel Byman, a Middle East expert and professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
"They don't like public embarrassment. So having have these individuals be expelled, having it make the news, is not something the Saudi regime wants," Byman said.
The expelling of the Saudi students arrives amid heightened tensions in the region following the American drone strike that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani.
Byman said pushing out the students could make a precarious situation with Iran even more uncertain.
"If there's going to be efforts to do diplomacy with Iran, no matter which direction the United States wants to go in, Saudi Arabia is going to be important for that," according to Byman.
Authorities identified the victims of the December attack in Pensacola as Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Enterprise, Ala.; Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Ga.
Some members of Congress used the incident to renew attention on foreign military exchange training programs, which bring thousands of students from dozens of countries to be taught at U.S. bases.
Top military officials view the programs as a way to boost relationships with foreign militaries and to increase the sharing of intelligence around the globe as a national security measure.
When asked on Fox News Sunday about the move to kick out Saudi trainees, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, are exhibiting caution in the aftermath of the bloody rampage.
"I think we're being very careful. Obviously, Pensacola showed that there had been errors in the way that we vetted, and out of an abundance of caution Secretary Esper has taken these actions to protect our service men and women," O'Brien said.
The Saudis set to be expelled from the U.S. are not accused of aiding the 21-year-old Saudi gunman who carried out the attack, according to CNN, which first reported Saturday night that more than a dozen Saudi servicemen would be removed from the country.
Federal investigators believe the Saudi gunman, who legally purchased a handgun before the shooting, acted alone and was not part of a larger network. A sheriff's deputy shot and killed him.
Shortly after the shooting, an account linked to the gunman surfaced showing vitriolic posts on social media criticizing American foreign policy and military action, saying the country had become "a nation of evil."
The Department of Justice, Department of Defense and the Federal Bureau of Investigation all declined to comment on the pending announcement about the Saudi students being expelled.
NPR's Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.


U.S. Officials: More Than 20 Saudi Students To Be Expelled In Wake Of Fla. Shooting
 

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Military.com | By Gina Harkins
The Saudi pilot who killed three people when he opened fire on a Florida Navyinstallation last month was inspired by jihadist ideology, the United States attorney general said, calling the attack "an act of terrorism."
Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old Royal Saudi Air Forcemember, shared jihadi and anti-U.S. military posts on social media, Attorney General William Barr said in a Monday press conference on the investigation into the Dec. 6 attack. Some of those posts were shared within two hours of the attack.


The shooter also visited the 9/11 memorial site in New York over Thanksgiving weekend and posted a message on the 18th anniversary of those attacks stating that "the countdown has begun," Barr said.
"The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology," he said.
David Bowdich, the FBI's deputy director, said that Alshamrani fired at photos of President Donald Trump and at least one other former commander in chief during the attack. The Saudi officer also made statements during the attack that were critical of American actions overseas, Bowdich said.
Ensign Joshua K. Watson, Airman Mohammed S. Haitham and Airman Apprentice Cameron S. Walters were killed in the attack. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly posthumously awarded the three aviation trainees the Wings of Gold in honor of their heroism and sacrifice.

The attack, which wounded eight others, lasted 15 minutes, Bowdich said. Naval security forces engaged the shooter within eight minutes. Alshamrani was ultimately killed by law enforcement personnel.
At the crime scene, Bowdich said they recovered a semiautomatic handgun with an extended magazine, several ammunition magazines and approximately 180 rounds of ammunition. He confirmed that Alshamrani purchased the weapon used in the attack lawfully in Florida in July 2019.
"It was purchased under a hunting license exception," Bowdich said. "This exception allows non-immigrant visa holders who otherwise are not permitted to buy firearms or ammunition to purchase them if they have a valid state-issued hunting license permit or other required documentation."
The fatal incident prompted a review of the program that allows international troops to train on military installations. Barr said the investigation shows Alshamrani acted alone despite early reports that other Saudi troops had assisted in or recorded the attack.
"They fully cooperated in the investigation, as did all other Saudi cadets who were interviewed by the FBI at the base and in other bases around the country," he said.
In the course of the investigation, though, Barr said officials identified 21 members of the Saudi military who had inappropriate materials and will be shipped back to their country this week.
Seventeen of the cadets had jihadi or anti-American content on their computers, Barr said.
"However, there was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group," the attorney general added.
Fifteen of the Saudi trainees -- including some who'd been found to have the jihadi or anti-American materials -- were also found to have had "some kind of contact with child pornography," Barr said.
One was found to have a significant number of child pornography images, he said, while the rest had one or two photos that had been posted in a chat room or sent to them via social media.
"The relevant U.S. attorneys' offices independently reviewed each of the 21 cases involving derogatory information and determined that none of them would in the normal course result in federal prosecution," Barr said. "However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force and in the Royal Navy and the 21 cadets have been disenrolled from their training curriculum in the U.S. military and will be returning to Saudi Arabia later today."
Barr defended the program that allows foreign troops to train at U.S. military bases, calling the partnerships "critically important to our country." He later added that the vetting on international troops coming into the U.S. should be improved before those personnel arrive in the U.S.
"I wouldn't suggest or speculate that improved vetting would necessarily have prevented this particular event, but I do think it's clear -- and I think the department of defense agrees -- that we do have to improve our vetting procedures," Barr said. "And they are in the process of doing that."
 

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Statement Following the Conclusion of Pensacola Naval Air Station Attack Investigation
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January 13, 2020
Following the conclusion of the investigation by US law enforcement authorities into the shooting incident at Pensacola Naval Air Station on December 6, 2019 involving a Royal Saudi Air Force cadet, the official spokesperson of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington would like to stress the following points:
The disturbed and radicalized individual who carried out this terrible attack acted alone. He does not represent the hundreds of thousands of Saudis who have lived, studied and trained in the United States over the past several decades, nor does his heinous act represent the values of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has fully cooperated with American investigators looking into the motivations of the attacker. Saudi Arabia will continue to cooperate with US authorities should they require additional information. In addition, the Kingdom has determined that 21 cadets have demonstrated conduct unbecoming of an officer in the Saudi Royal Air Force or Royal Navy and therefore have been unenrolled from their training program in the U.S. military. They will be returning to the Kingdom.

It is worth noting that the military training that the US provides to Saudi military personnel has enabled Saudi soldiers, pilots and sailors to fight along their American counterparts and against our common foes. The close cooperation between the two nations on intelligence matters and issues related to counter terrorism has saved the lives of many in the US, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere and has made the world a safer place. Approximately 28,000 Saudis have undergone military training in the US over the course of several decades without incident.

Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of the international community’s effort to counter terrorist groups for many years. The kingdom has used every means at its disposal to counter the men, mindset and money that allow Al Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups to recruit followers and to threaten communities and even entire nations. In addition, the terrorists who have struck the US and many other nations have also targeted Saudi Arabia’s people, leadership, military personnel and even our holiest religious institutions in Mecca and Medina on multiple occasions.

Violent extremists continue to pose a serious challenge to the security of the United States, Saudi Arabia and most countries around the world. Terror groups have recruited thousands of people from dozens of countries. The kingdom has worked closely with the US to counter this global threat.

Finally, close to a million Saudis have come to the US for their education, training and other reasons over several decades. The overwhelming majority of them are law-abiding citizens who view themselves as unofficial ambassadors of the kingdom. Many consider the United States as a second home and treat their American colleagues, classmates and neighbors as an extended part of their family. Thousands of them took to social media to condemn the attacker and to extend their condolences to Americans, as did our leadership and our ambassador to the United States.
 

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In addition, the Kingdom has determined that 21 cadets have demonstrated conduct unbecoming of an officer in the Saudi Royal Air Force or Royal Navy and therefore have been unenrolled from their training program in the U.S. military. They will be returning to the Kingdom.
Interesting. So Saudi Arabia was part of the investigation process and those 21 are to be sent home in a unilateral decision taken by the kingdom?
 

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Interesting. So Saudi Arabia was part of the investigation process and those 21 are to be sent home in a unilateral decision taken by the kingdom?
Yes. Also, all this nonsense spread about other students filming the incident turned out to be untrue. So far everything was investigated by our side the decision to send 21 students home was our decision. Never keep WhatsApp group videos on your phone.

The Department of justice statement concluded the following:

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave complete and total support for our counter-terrorism investigation and ordered all Saudi trainees to fully cooperate. This assistance was critical to helping the FBI determine whether anyone assisted the shooter in the attack.

While there was no evidence of assistance or pre-knowledge of the attack by other members of the Saudi military (or any other foreign nationals) who are training in the United States, we did learn of derogatory material possessed by 21 members of the Saudi military who are training here in the United States.

17 had social media containing some jihadi or anti-American content. However, there was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group. 15 individuals (including some of the 17 just mentioned) had had some kind of contact with child pornography. While one of these individuals had a significant number of such images, all the rest had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by someone else or received over social media.

The relevant U.S. Attorneys offices independently reviewed each of the 21 cases involving derogatory information and determined that none of them would, in the normal course, result in federal prosecution.

However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Saudi Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and the 21 cadets have been dis-enrolled from their training curriculum in the U.S. military and will be returning to Saudi Arabia (later today).


The Kingdom has assured me that it will review each of these cases under their code of military justice and criminal code. The Kingdom has also agreed that we will have full access to anyone we want to interview in Saudi Arabia and any documents relevant to our investigation. Indeed, it has already been providing documents. Further, the Kingdom has assured us that, if we later decide to charge any of those being sent back to Saudi Arabia in connection with this counterterrorism investigation, it will return them for trial.
 

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