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A member of the Saudi Air Force visiting the United States for military training was the suspect in a shooting that killed four people and injured eight at a U.S. Navy base in Florida on Friday, the state governor and other officials said.
The shooter was killed by sheriffs deputies responding to the dawn incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Navy and local sheriffs office said, the second deadly shooting at a U.S. military installation this week.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the suspect was a Saudi national attending training at the base as part of a long-standing Navy program open to U.S. allies. The motive for the violence was under investigation.
“There is obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Force and then to be here training on our soil,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. They are going to owe a debt here, given that this was one of their individuals.”
U.S President Donald Trump said Saudi Arabias King Salman called him to offer condolences and sympathy to the victims.
“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The suspect used a handgun in the attack, which played out over two floors in a classroom building at a base whose main function is training.
“Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie,” Sheriff David Morgan said.
The first reports of an “active shooter” on the base came through to the Escambia County Sheriffs office at about 6:51 a.m., officials said.
A few minutes later, a sheriffs deputy fatally shot the shooter in a classroom on the base, Morgan said.
Trainees are highly vetted
In recent weeks, 18 naval aviators and two aircrew members from the Royal Saudi Naval Forces were training with the U.S. Navy, including a stint at Pensacola, according to a Nov. 15 press release from the Navy. It was not clear if the suspected shooter was part of that delegation.
The delegation came under a Navy program that offers training to U.S. allies, known as the Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity.
A person familiar with the program said that Saudi Air Force officers selected for military training in the United States are intensely vetted by both countries.
The Saudi personnel are “hand-picked” by their military and often come from elite families, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak to a reporter. Trainees must speak excellent English, the person said.
Saudi Arabias embassy in Washington did not respond to questions.
Two sheriffs deputies were injured, one shot in the arm, the other in the knee, but both were expected to survive, officials said at the news conference.
Eight people were taken to Baptist Hospital for treatment, hospital spokeswoman Kathy Bowers said.
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