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Al-Qaida claims deadly Florida naval base shooting

Militant group releases video claiming attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola took years to plan

CORRECTS ONE OF THE DUPLICATIONS OF WALTERS TO WATSON - Air Force Door Attendant Staff Sgt. Siannie Conception closes the door of the transfer vehicle carrying the transfer cases containing the remains of Ensign Cameron Joshua Kaleb Watson, Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham and Seaman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed the three people in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
CORRECTS ONE OF THE DUPLICATIONS OF WALTERS TO WATSON - Air Force Door Attendant Staff Sgt. Siannie Conception closes the door of the transfer vehicle carrying the transfer cases containing the remains of Ensign Cameron Joshua Kaleb Watson, Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham and Seaman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed the three people in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen claimed responsibility Sunday for last year’s deadly shooting at the Naval Air Station Pensacola by an aviation student from Saudi Arabia.

The shooter, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was a member of the Saudi Air Force in training at the base. He opened fire inside a classroom at the base on Dec. 6, killing three people --- 19-year-old Navy airman Mohammed Haitham, 21-year-old Navy airman Cameron Scott Walters and 23-year-old Ensign Joshua Watson -- who ran toward the gunfire.

Victims of Friday's morning's mass shooting: Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida; Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia; and Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Coffee, Alabama.
Victims of Friday's morning's mass shooting: Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida; Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia; and Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Coffee, Alabama.

Alshamrani also wounded two sheriff’s deputies before one of the deputies killed him. Eight others were also hurt.

Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani
Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani (Photo provided to Military Times)

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, released a video claiming the attack. SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks messaging by militant groups, reported the claim.

AQAP has long been considered the global network’s most dangerous branch and has attempted to carry out attacks on the U.S. mainland.

The 18-minute video did not provide evidence of training the shooter, but did indicate that Alshamrani and AQAP were in communication, said Rita Katz, director of SITE. It was not clear when the video was recorded.

Governor, defense secretary meet on Pensacola attack
Governor, defense secretary meet on Pensacola attack

The video claimed that Alshamrani had been planning for years to attack a U.S. base, and had been training and “selecting” targets.

The video, which was viewed by The Associated Press, provided a will written by Alshamrani to his family in September 2019, three months prior to attack. He said he wanted to attack the U.S., citing religious reasons. However, he made no mention of al-Qaida.

In this Dec. 9, 2019 photo made available by the FBI, Saudi Arabia Defense Attach Major General Fawaz Al Fawaz (second from right) meets with Saudi students at the NAS Pensacola base in Pensacola, Fla. The Navy announced on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, that flight training has been suspended for about 175 Saudi Arabian students in the wake of a shooting at the base on Friday that killed three sailors and injured eight others. (FBI via AP)
In this Dec. 9, 2019 photo made available by the FBI, Saudi Arabia Defense Attach Major General Fawaz Al Fawaz (second from right) meets with Saudi students at the NAS Pensacola base in Pensacola, Fla. The Navy announced on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, that flight training has been suspended for about 175 Saudi Arabian students in the wake of a shooting at the base on Friday that killed three sailors and injured eight others. (FBI via AP)

Foreign nationals participating in U.S. training go through a vetting process. The Pentagon says it includes screening for any illicit drug activities, support for terrorist organizations, corruption and criminal conduct.

The video included audio from top AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi claiming “full responsibility” for the attack by Alshamrani, calling him “the hero, the courageous knight.”

A suspected U.S. drone strike destroyed a building housing al-Qaida militants last week in eastern Yemen. President Donald Trump retweeted several tweets and media reports that seemed to offer confirmation the strike killed al-Rimi.

Katz also said that AQAO did not state “May Allah Protect Him” in regard to al-Rimi, as its releases usually do. “(This) adds yet more suggestion to him indeed being killed,” she tweeted.

Al-Rimi was one of AQAP’s founders and became the group’s leader after Nasser al-Wahishi was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2015.