Three people were killed and eight individuals were wounded early Friday after a gunman opened fire at a naval air base in Pensacola, according to authorities.
The alleged shooter, a Saudi national, was killed by a sheriff’s deputy, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.
The suspect was a trainee with the Saudi Arabia Air Force, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters during a press conference Friday afternoon.
The United States and Saudi Arabia maintain close ties. Saudi Arabia is the United State’s top client by far of American arms sales, which routinely entails sending Saudi nationals to train alongside American soldiers and vice versa: the Saudi military is American-trained. “Since 2009, the executive branch has notified Congress of proposed foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia of major defense articles and services with a potential aggregate value of nearly $139 billion,” the Congressional Research Service reported two weeks ago. “The United States and Saudi Arabia concluded arms sale agreements worth more than $76 billion from FY2009 through FY2017.”
In addition, the U.S. Army Material Command-Security Assistance Command oversees Saudi-funded Ministry of Interior security for key infrastructure, making it ” “the only U.S. military organization that advises and trains another country’s Ministry of Interior security forces,” according to the American agency’s public affairs office.
“The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. I think they are going to owe a debt here, given that this is one of their individuals,” DeSantis said.
President Donald Trump said in a tweet that King Salman of Saudi Arabia called him to give his condolences. Saudis are “greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter,” Trump tweeted.
DeSantis, a former Navy attorney who is a close ally of Trump’s, said the gunman’s nationality will likely add an additional layer to federal authorities’ probe into the shooting.
“When you have a foreign national involved, particularly in that part of the world, the investigation is obviously going to be different than if it were just somebody from the local community. And I think you will see that as things go on,” the governor said.
Capt. Timothy F. Kinsella Jr., the naval base’s commanding officer, declined to say whether the shooting would be investigated as an act of terrorism.
“I appreciate the question, but it is not something we want to speculate on right now,” Kinsella told reporters. “We are taking care of what we need to take care of right now.”
But U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose congressional district includes Pensacola, called the shooting a terrorist act.
“This event demonstrated a serious failure in the vetting process and in the way in which we invite these people into our community,” said Gaetz, a Republican who is also close to the president.
Trump, however, said that King Salman said the shooter “in no way shape or form represents the feeling of the Saudi people who love the American people.”
Gaetz, who has joined Trump in demanding a crackdown on illegal immigration, called on Friday for “extreme vetting” of foreign trainees coming to U.S. military bases.
The Pensacola base has long provided aviation training to students from different countries, according to Kinsella. The base has several hundred foreign trainees, the naval base’s commanding officer said.
“It is something we have been doing for quite a while,” Kinsella said at Friday’s press conference. “The cross-pollination and cross-training that we do with our allies is something that we have done for a long time.”
Morgan said his office began receiving reports of the shooting shortly before 7 a.m. Friday. It took between three to five minutes for law enforcement officers to respond to the shooting, he said.
“They ran to the fight, not from the fight,” Morgan. “Even though they knew there was an active shooter — and again the chances of putting your life in danger are great — guess where they went? They went inside.”
DeSantis, whose administration deployed a state mental health coordinator to help witnesses and families of the victims cope with the tragedy, said state officials will continue to monitor the case and remain in communication with White House officials.
The governor’s revised schedule Friday afternoon included calls with Trump and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The Escambia County sheriff expressed gratitude for the support from the state.
“Trust me, the relationships run deep here. This is going to be one of those times where anything we need, we are going to get,” Morgan said.
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive
The voice of reason says
An interesting local connection perhaps? A while back I went on a local flight school facebook page, (no names) and I noticed the vast majority of students were obviously from the middle east. I wondered why. No flight schools in Saudi Arabia? One would think Saudi Arabia would have the wealth to build airports, have the calm sunny weather to fly all the time. Why come here? They obviously have endless money to attend local flight schools, (its very expensive), and the time flexibility to practice endless take off and land operations at the Flagler airport. I bet if you connect the dots they move on from here to middle eastern military forces. But why come to Flagler? Flight school operations have exploded in the last 10 years. They have DESTROYED quality of life in surrounding airport neighborhoods. 9/11 and this current episode come to mind too. Makes me wonder. I for one wish they would GO HOME!!! (PS, Flagler County Airport needs noise abatement put in place NOW. Local politicians and airport administrators along with FCC controllers are negligent in their jobs.
I agree with part of your comments, back in the 80’s I had the misfortune of having to train saudi arabians who bought aircraft from us, it was not fun at all , and my opinion is that we shouldnt have been selling them aircraft in the first place, especially military aircraft. I also think that people who come to school here or come here to work need to be checked out very carefully. I have personnally caught a person from cuba taking pictures of aircraft in various stages of being built and she sent 30 photos to someone in georgia, needless to say ,she was fired on the spot and turned over to the FBI, her boyfriend /accomplice, a morrocan was caught sabotaging aircraft, again fired and turned in to the FBI. Someone dropped the ball vetting these two for sure. The part I dont agree with is your comment about the airport, I have been here over 22 years , and the airport was here then , I think anyone who bought a house near the airport after the airport was in place really has no reason to complain.I know that I woudnt have bought a house close to an airport , after working on aircraft over 35 years,thats the last thing I want to see or hear on my days off.
The voice of reason says
All I ask is for noise abatement to be put into practice here. Do you know what that is? Research it. Also, the number of flight schools is ABNORMAL here. It used to be 2 and now there’ 6 or so. For our population it’s way out of place. They make no effort whatsoever to be good neighbors. (noise abatement). With these schools its more like a middle finger to the surrounding neighborhoods. Local powers have blind to the issue.
The voice of reason says
I see the military has now grounded the Saudi student pilots to investigate. I wonder if the numerous Saudi student pilots like we have here at Flagler Airport are facing the same scrutiny. If not why.
Hey Flagler County! Look into who is training at our local airport with more than 3 flight schools based there. Are we next?
@Me says–That is certainly something to consider, unfortunately.
Crusty Old White Guy says
I can almost guaran-dam-tee you that all of the commenters above help put Orange Julius into office. The same OJ that recently pushed through the $8,000,000,000 Saudi arms deal.
Now let’s all sit back and watch the unintelligible MAGA shitshow responses come back from this comment. “Yeah, but you don’t understand…” followed by something inherently rediculous.
@Crusty Old White Guy.
Right you are. You’ll be excoriated by every red hat wearing, tiki torch carrying, ku klux following trumpster.