No one was ready to jump to any conclusions yesterday but the gap between what we suppose and what we know is getting a lot smaller. The AP reports that shooter Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani held a party to watch mass shooting videos earlier this week. Other Saudi pilot trainees were at the party:
The Saudi student who fatally shot three people at a U.S. naval base in Florida hosted a dinner party earlier in the week where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings, a U.S. official told The Associated Press on Saturday.
One of the three students who attended the dinner party videotaped outside the building while the shooting was taking place at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity after being briefed by federal authorities. Two other Saudi students watched from a car, the official said.
The official said 10 Saudi students were being held on the base Saturday while several others were unaccounted for.
Obviously this raises all sorts of questions, starting with this one: Were other people in on this plan? My first thought was that obviously the guy filming the building knew what was coming and was set up to record it for propaganda purposes. That could be the case but it’s also possible he heard a commotion and took out his phone. It’s incriminating but not absolutely clear…yet.
What does seem clear is that this was planned in advance and wasn’t aimed at any one individual. The goal here was mass casualties. From the NY Times:
The gunman used a locally purchased Glock 45 9-millimeter handgun with an extended magazine and had four to six other magazines in his possession when he was taken down by a sheriff’s deputy, according to the person with knowledge of the investigation.
That this was not just workplace violence is also the message coming from local elected officials who presumably know more than the public at this point:
Officials were searching for the gunman’s motives. Two federal law enforcement officials said it was too early to say if the shooting was an act of terrorism, but several Florida politicians labeled it that.
Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican whose congressional district includes Pensacola, said he was convinced, based on what he had been told, that the shooting was a terrorist act, although he declined to say what led him to that belief.
“We can safely call this an act of terrorism, not an act of workplace violence,” he told WEAR, a local television station. And Senator Rick Scott of Florida, also a Republican, said the attack should be
So there’s really no doubt the goal was a mass shooting. The only real question is what motivated this. The FBI is still remaining mum for the moment but MEMRI and other groups note that social media accounts that appear to belong to the shooter included a rant about America as an evil place which oppresses Muslims. Here’s Rita Katz of SITE Intelligence Group quoting from the statement:
BREAKING: Tweet by #Pensacola attacker Alshamrani suggests terrorist motive. Does not claim allegiance to any group, but echos Bin Laden: "The security is a shared destiny…You will not be safe until we live it as reality in [Palestine], and American troops get out of our land." pic.twitter.com/KALH4PXYKy
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) December 7, 2019
Finally, CBS News has identified one of the three victims: Joshua Caleb Watson. Watson was shot multiple times and still managed to tell first responders where the shooter was. This clip also contains additional information from MEMRI on the shooter’s motive. Again, this hasn’t been confirmed by the FBI but that’s probably just a matter of time.