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Navy Grounds Saudi Flight Students amid Investigation into Pensacola Shooting

A U.S. Navy officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln observes an MH-60S Sea Hawk transporting cargo, August 22, 2019. (Garrett LaBarge/US Navy/Reuters)

The Navy indefinitely suspended flight instruction for Saudi military trainees in Florida on Tuesday as part of a “safety stand-down” in an ongoing investigation into Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the Saudi national who killed three in a shooting at the Pensacola naval base last week.

“They are currently doing a safety stand-down, an operational pause, in their flight training,” said Navy spokesperson Lt. Andriana Genualdi. She added that the order affected 175 students.

The suspension will affect Saudi students at three bases in Florida: Pensacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field, and Naval Station Mayport. Classroom teaching will continue, and other international students will resume flight training, the Navy said.

The shooter, who the FBI said legally purchased a handgun after obtaining a state hunting license, opened fire at the station early in the morning on December 6, killing three people and injuring eight more before two deputies engaged him. The deputies were injured during the exchange with the suspect but are expected to survive.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said the shooter acquired the gun through a “loophole” in federal gun laws, which prohibit those residing in the U.S. on non-immigrant visas from purchasing firearms but contain an exception for those who have been granted hunting licenses.

“I’m a big supporter of the Second Amendment, but the Second Amendment applies so that we the American people can keep and bear arms,” DeSantis, a former Navy prosecutor, said at a Sunday press conference in Pensacola. “But it does not apply to Saudi Arabians.”

On Monday, U.S. officials confirmed they were investigating a string of anti-American tweets made by the gunman before he began shooting. SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist media, reported that the gunman did not claim allegiance to any group, but echoed famed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

“I’m against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil,” the post read, according to AFP. “I’m not against you for just being American, I don’t hate you because your freedoms, I hate you because every day you supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity.”

Another official said that prior to the shooting, the gunman hosted a dinner party where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings.

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