Earlier today U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced the results of a criminal investigation into the December terrorist attack at Pensacola Naval Air Station. The AG answered press questions at the end of his remarks.
Accompanying AG Bill was FBI Deputy Director David Bowditch. Interestingly, Mr. Bowditch, as SanFran field office head, was the lead investigator of the San Bernadino terrorist attack prior to returning to Washington DC. [Video and Transcript Below]
[Transcript] – BILL BARR: Good afternoon, and thank you for coming.
We are here to discuss the results of the investigation into the shooting that occurred on Dec. 6, 2019 at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Joining me today are David Bowdich, Deputy Director of the FBI; John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Michael Sherwin, Associate Deputy Attorney General for National Security; Rachel Rojas, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Field Office in Jacksonville, Florida; and Larry Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
I want to thank the FBI and the other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies involved in responding to and investigating the incident for their rapid and excellent work. Many people worked long hours through the holidays, and I am grateful for their diligence and commitment to seeing this through. You will be hearing from Deputy Director Bowdich shortly about the details of the FBI investigative work, which was superb.
In considering this case, we have to remember that there are thousands of allied pilots and other military personnel receiving training on military bases throughout the United States. These military partnerships are critically important to the United States. The Royal Saudi Air Force, which flies American-made aircraft, is an important military partner, and has long had a training relationship with us.
On Dec. 6, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force, entered a building on the grounds of Pensacola Naval Air Station and killed three U.S. sailors and severely wounded eight other Americans. Alshamrani was killed during the attack.
This was an act of terrorism.
The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology. During the course of the investigation, we learned that the shooter posted a message on social media on Sept. 11 of last year that said: “the countdown has begun.” Over Thanksgiving weekend, he visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. He also posted other anti-American, anti-Israeli, and jihadi messages on social media, and did so two hours before his attack at the naval base.
Early reports indicated that the shooter arrived at the site, accompanied by other Saudi cadets, who took video of the attack as it unfolded. These reports turned out not to be accurate. The shooter arrived by himself. Other Saudi cadets happened to be in the area and, after the attack began, they took some videos of the resulting commotion. They fully cooperated in the investigation, as did the other Saudi cadets who were interviewed by the FBI at Pensacola and at additional bases across the country.
After Alshamrani entered the building and cased the facility, he proceeded to walk around shooting down his unarmed victims in cold blood.
During and after this heinous attack, there were many specific acts of courage, and I want to draw special attention to two U.S. Marines: Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Maisel and Staff Sgt. Samuel Mullins.
They were outside the building when they heard gunfire and, although unarmed, they ran into the building to confront the shooter. Their only weapon was a fire extinguisher that they had pulled off the wall as they ran toward the gunfire. Who but the Marines?
Although they were unable to engage the shooter, they helped save many lives by performing CPR and other medical aid on the victims.
I would also like to mention the heroic acts of Navy Airman Ryan Blackwell. The shooter shot Airman Blackwell five times, yet Ryan still managed to jump on top of a fellow sailor to keep her from being shot. He further assisted other students and helped them escape, all while taking additional fire from the shooter. Airman Blackwell’s heroic acts also saved countless lives that day.
We are grateful as well for the bravery of the base personnel and local law enforcement responders who initially arrived at the scene and engaged the shooter.
I would also like to address the cooperation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave complete and total support for our counter-terrorism investigation, and ordered all Saudi trainees to fully cooperate. This assistance was critical to helping the FBI determine whether anyone assisted the shooter in the attack.
While there was no evidence of assistance or pre-knowledge of the attack by other members of the Saudi military (or any other foreign nationals) who are training in the United States, we did learn of derogatory material possessed by 21 members of the Saudi military who are training here in the United States.
17 had social media containing some jihadi or anti-American content. However, there was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group. 15 individuals (including some of the 17 just mentioned) had had some kind of contact with child pornography. While one of these individuals had a significant number of such images, all the rest had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by someone else or received over social media.
The relevant U.S. Attorneys offices independently reviewed each of the 21 cases involving derogatory information and determined that none of them would, in the normal course, result in federal prosecution.
However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Saudi Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and the 21 cadets have been dis-enrolled from their training curriculum in the U.S. military and will be returning to Saudi Arabia (later today).
The Kingdom has assured me that it will review each of these cases under their code of military justice and criminal code. The Kingdom has also agreed that we will have full access to anyone we want to interview in Saudi Arabia and any documents relevant to our investigation. Indeed, it has already been providing documents. Further, the Kingdom has assured us that, if we later decide to charge any of those being sent back to Saudi Arabia in connection with this counterterrorism investigation, it will return them for trial.
We appreciate Saudi Arabia’s cooperation in this case.
Finally, I want to address an issue regarding the shooter’s phones.
The shooter possessed two Apple iPhones, seen on posters here.
Within one day of the shooting, the FBI sought and received court authorization based on probable cause to search both phones in an effort to run down all leads and figure out with whom the shooter was communicating.
During the gunfight with first responders, the shooter disengaged long enough to place one of the phones on the floor and shoot a single round into the device. It also appears the other phone was damaged.
Our experts at the FBI crime lab were able to fix both damaged phones so they are operational.
However, both phones are engineered to make it virtually impossible to unlock them without the password. It is very important to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died.
We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance. This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause. We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks.
With that, I will turn things over to Deputy Director Bowdich.