The Saudi military trainee, who reportedly killed three US sailors and wounded several other back in December 2019 on a military base in Pensacola, Florida, worked with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to plan the attack, US officials said. According to an international media report, the US investigators uncovered the al-Qaeda connection after the FBI broke through the encryption protecting the Saudi attacker’s iPhone, which took months because Apple refused to unlock the phone.
As per reports, the attack led to the expulsion of 21 Saudi military pupils who had been studying at the base with the attacker. The FBI report said that the gunman, who was killed by authorities, had been radicalised before arriving Florida for a three-year aviation course, which the US navy hosts for allied foreign servicemen. The records reportedly revealed that the gunman had been in active contact with the AQAP, which is an off-shoot of al-Qaeda based in Yemen.
Furthermore, the authorities said that the evidence they have been able to develop from the killer’s devices shows that the Pensacola attack was actually the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation by a longtime AQAP associate. According to the media outlet, the group’s leader, Qasim al-Raymi, was also confirmed in February to have been killed during a US operation. AQAP had also released an audio message earlier with Raymi’s voice, in which he said that the group was behind the naval base shooting.
While speaking to the media outlet, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the gunman was ‘more than inspired’ by AQAP as he had been sharing tactics and co-ordinating’ with the group on plans for the attack.
The military base attack further strained the US-Saudi relations. It also marked a major development in the US fight against terrorism. Moreover, the attack also led to the defence department to pause all international military training in the US until further vetting measures could be put in place.
While disclosing the details of the ‘terror investigation’, the Trump administration also criticised Apple for refusing to help unlock the gunman’s phones, which he had attempted to destroy before he was shot dead. While speaking at a news conference FBI and attorney General William Barr reportedly said that the investigators received ‘effectively no help’ from Apple in bypassing the phones. Barr even called it a ‘great disappointment’ that the company had refused to help investigators.