Pentagon to restrict, monitor foreign trainees to prevent repeat of Pensacola Navy base shooting

Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has developed new guidelines for vetting foreign military trainees after a shooting that killed three at a Pensacola Navy base in December, Defense Department officials announced Friday.

The new rules include restrictions on possession and use of firearms, access to bases and travel while off duty. Foreign military students will be continuously monitored while they are enrolled in training, said Garry Reid, a Defense intelligence official.

"When these procedures are in place, the military departments will be authorized to fully resume training that has been suspended since the attack in Pensacola," Reid said.

Days after the attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Navy grounded more than 300 Saudi nationals who were training to be pilots. Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist ordered Defense intelligence officials to review and strengthen vetting procedures.

On Monday, Attorney General William Barr declared the shooting in Pensacola was an act of terrorism motivated by "jihadist ideology."

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A Saudi pilot, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, fired on service members at the base on Dec. 6, killing three American service members and injuring eight others. Alshamrani was killed as well. 

On Sept. 11 last year, Alshamrani posted on social media that "the countdown has begun." He visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City over Thanksgiving weekend, and he posted "anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi messages" on social media two hours before the attack, Barr said.

Under the new guidelines, military officials will continuously monitor foreign students for indicators of potential danger, according to a Defense Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Alshamrani was one of 5,180 foreign students from 153 countries, including 852 Saudi nationals, in the U.S. for military training. Many operate military hardware that foreign governments buy from the United States. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest customer for arms, and many of those are American-made. 

Since the program began, the Pentagon has trained more than 1 million foreign military students without an incident as serious as the shooting in Pensacola, the official said.

Barr dismissed reports that the shooter may have been assisted by other Saudi cadets. They happened to be in the area and took videos of the chaos after the shooting, and they cooperated with investigators, Barr said.  

Although there's no evidence Saudi military trainees were involved in the attack or had advance knowledge of it, 21 trainees expressed derogatory sentiments about the United States, according to Barr. At least 15 of them were found in possession of child pornography during the investigation.

All have been expelled from the training program and returned to Saudi Arabia.

No other foreign military students were disqualified after the review, the official said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pentagon to monitor foreign trainees after Pensacola shooting