An Islamic terrorist organization claimed credit this weekend for the December 6, 2019, terrorist attack on Naval Air Station Pensacola which resulted in the deaths of three U.S. sailors and severe injuries to eight other Americans.
“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed on Sunday that it directed a Saudi military officer to carry out the shooting,” The New York Times reported. “In an audio recording released on Sunday, the leader of the Yemen-based group, Qassim al-Rimi, claimed responsibility for the Dec. 6 attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, according to SITE, an organization that tracks jihadist media.”
The Times noted that the group “produced a copy of his will as well as correspondence that indicated he had been in contact with Al Qaeda. Experts said those elements gave the claim a plausible air.”
The development shines new light from a separate report from late last week that indicated that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reportedly killed al-Rimi in a drone strike last month in Yemen.
Bruce Riedel, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former C.I.A. officer, told The Times that Al-Qaeda’s release of the audio was “a statement that AQAP has infiltrated the Saudi military, which is an embarrassment for the Saudis.”
Colin P. Clarke, a senior fellow at a New York-based research organization, said that Al Qaeda’s claim “makes the F.B.I.’s battle with Apple for access to [the terrorist’s] phone even that much more critical.”
On January 13, Attorney General William Barr announced the findings of the government’s findings and declared that the attack on the base was a terrorist attack.
“The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology,” Barr said. “During the course of the investigation, we learned that the shooter posted a message on social media on Sept. 11 of last year that said: ‘the countdown has begun.’ Over Thanksgiving weekend, he visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. He also posted other anti-American, anti-Israeli, and jihadi messages on social media, and did so two hours before his attack at the naval base.”
“Early reports indicated that the shooter arrived at the site, accompanied by other Saudi cadets, who took video of the attack as it unfolded,” Barr continued. “These reports turned out not to be accurate. The shooter arrived by himself. Other Saudi cadets happened to be in the area and, after the attack began, they took some videos of the resulting commotion. They fully cooperated in the investigation, as did the other Saudi cadets who were interviewed by the FBI at Pensacola and at additional bases across the country.”
Barr said that there was no evidence suggesting that the Saudi military knew of the attack ahead of time and said that they were cooperative in the investigation.
“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,” Barr said. “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,” Barr continued. “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 added, “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).”
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