Saudis Pledge Help, Friendship in Wake of NAS Shootings
Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, visited Naval Air Station Pensacola last week to extend her deepest condolences for the December 6 shooting, and to reinforce Saudi Arabia's full cooperation with U.S. authorities.
Twenty-one-year-old Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani – a 2nd. Lt. in the Saudi Royal Air Force – used a handgun he purchased legally to kill three fellow students and wound eight others. Alshamrani was shot and killed by Escambia County deputies.
“Frankly, I was horrified by this senseless act of violence; I wondered why anyone would do such a terrible thing,” said Fahad Nazer, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. “And that was followed by deep sorrow for the loss of innocent life, especially given how young the victims were.”
Nazer echoed his government’s promise of assistance in the investigation, and declined to elaborate.
“I do not want to speak about the assailant or the details of the investigation at this point,” Nazer said. “We still don’t have all the answers, but the Kingdom will take necessary measures to reduce the likelihood of something like this from happening again in the future.”
The ambassador’s visit came three days after a Saudi defense official — Maj. Gen. Fawaz Al Fawaz — met with the Saudi aviation students who are grounded and restricted to the base on orders from their Saudi commanding officer. Rather than focus on the one incident, Nazer chose to concentrate on a broader picture involving the affiliation between the Kingdom and the U.S.
“For instance, the military training has paid dividends on at least two occasions,” said Nazer. “When Saudi soldiers fought [alongside] their American counterparts to expel Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwait in 1991, and more recently when Saudi pilots took part in the U.S.-led international coalition to expel the terrorist group Islamic State [ISIS] from Syria.”
“I thank the Kingdom for their pledge of full and complete cooperation; we are as we do, and most active-shooter investigations work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism,” said FBI Special Agent Rachel Rojas, who is in charge of the case.
Using the presumption of terrorism opens the doors for techniques to help identify other threats more quickly. There’s no word yet on a possible motive, or whether ideology played a role.
“Where there are many reports circulating regarding the shooter’s motivation, and his alleged activities leading to his attack,” said Rojas. “I can tell you that we are looking very hard at uncovering his motive. And I would ask for patience so we can get this right.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis – speaking just hours after the attack – expressed hope that Saudi Arabia steps up for the families of the dead and those recovering.
“The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims; and I think they’re going to owe a debt here, given that this is one of their individuals,” said DeSantis.
The attack aboard NAS Pensacola is the latest of issues that many consider to be roadblocks in Saudi-American relations. Others include the September 11 attacks; the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, women’s rights and oil prices.
“I’d like your listeners [readers] to know a couple of things, frankly,” said Fahad Nazer at the Saudi Embassy.
“The Kingdom has actually been at the forefront of the international community’s effort to capture terrorist groups,” said Nazer. “Over a million Saudis have come to the United States and have treated the country as a second home. They have worked at soup kitchens; they have comforted senior citizens, [and] some have even traveled across the country to help communities recover from natural disasters.”
“That, I think, is much more indicative of who we are as a people, and represents our true values.”
As far as future relations between the two nations, Nazer says they’ve continued to deepen and strengthen over the nearly 80 years under both Democratic and Republican administrations here.
“I think that will continue to happen; that relationship is multi-dimensional,” said Nazer. “It has a security component, the military component and an economic component, as well as a people-to-people, cultural component. All of these have continue to grow and deepen, and I suspect and certainly hope that will continue well into the future.”
Perhaps the next obstacles to cross in the relationship are calls by U.S. lawmakers to revisit the international training program that brought the gunman to NAS Pensacola.