US to send home some Saudi military students after shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States (US) is preparing to remove more than a dozen Saudi military students from a training programme and return them to their home country after an investigation into a deadly shooting by a Saudi aviation student at a Florida navy base last month, a US official told The Associated Press.

The 21-year-old Saudi Air Force officer, 2nd Lt Mohammed Alshamrani, opened fire at the base in Pensacola, killing three US sailors and injuring eight other people. The Justice Department has been investigating the incident as an act of terrorism.

Officials have said Alshamrani hosted a party before the shooting, where he and others watched videos of mass shootings. The gunman had also apparently taken to Twitter before the shooting to criticise US support of Israel and accuse America of being anti-Muslim, another US official told the AP last month.

Alshamrani, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the rampage at a classroom building, was undergoing flight training at Pensacola, where members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction.

It was not immediately clear on what grounds the students were being removed from the programme, though the official said they were not suspected of having played any role in the attack. The precise number of students being removed was also not clear. The officials discussing the case spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about details involved in an ongoing investigation.

The FBI declined to comment on Sunday. The Justice Department said Attorney General William Barr and Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich would provide an update on the investigation at a news conference.

The plan to remove the students was first reported by CNN.

The December shooting raised questions about how well international military students are screened before they attend training at American bases. Some lawmakers, including a top Republican ally of President Donald Trump, have called for Saudi Arabia to be suspended from an American military training programme.

Trump called for the programme to be reviewed. But Sen Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said the programme needed to be reevaluated after the attack.