PENSACOLA, Fla. — A member of the Saudi air force armed with a handgun fatally shot three people and injured eight others Friday morning during a bloody rampage in a classroom building at the prestigious Naval Air Station in Pensacola, where he was training to become a pilot.
The authorities, led by the FBI, were investigating to determine the gunman’s motive and whether the shooting was an act of terrorism.
A US military official identified the gunman, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the attack, as Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. He was one of hundreds of military trainees at the base, which is considered the home of naval aviation. The shooting, the second at a Navy base this week, sent service members scrambling to lock the doors of their barracks or flee the base altogether.
The attack by a foreign national inside a US military installation raised questions about the vetting process for international students who are cleared by the Department of Defense and is likely to complicate military cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia at a time when relations with the kingdom are already tense.
In recent months, President Trump has held fast against bipartisan congressional efforts to rebuke his fierce support for Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has pressed for his kingdom to rise as a global player in international finance and politics.
Trump said he had spoken on Friday with the prince’s father, King Salman, who called to offer condolences and denounce the gunman’s deadly violence.
“The king said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter and that this person in no way, shape, or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people so much,” Trump said at a small-business round table in Washington.
The shooting shortly before 7 a.m. shook Pensacola, a city proud of its strong military history and teeming with veterans, including the sheriff.
“I’m devastated. We are in shock. This is surreal,” said Captain Timothy F. Kinsella Jr., the base’s commanding officer. “The days ahead are going to be difficult when it finally sinks in what has happened here.”
The time of the attack likely coincided with morning muster and the start of daily classes. The classroom building would have been full of junior officers, including US student naval aviators and student naval flight officers.
Streets were shut down all along the perimeter of the base, and traffic was paralyzed as ambulances and patrol cars raced toward the scene.
Among the eight injured were two deputies who were shot, one in the arm and one in the knee, but both were expected to recover. Two victims died on the base, and the other at Baptist Hospital. Their identities have not been released.
Pentagon officials found themselves investigating the second shooting on a military base in less than a week. On Wednesday, a United States sailor opened fire at a dry dock at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Oahu, Hawaii, fatally shooting two shipyard workers and injuring another before killing himself.
In a statement on Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was considering “several steps to ensure the security of our military installations and the safety of our service members and their families.”
The base at Pensacola, on Florida’s Panhandle, dates to the 1820s and is where the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team is based. Since World War I, most Navy and Marine Corps aviators and flight officers have begun their flight training there. Kinsella said that about 200 international students are currently in training.
Weapons are not allowed on the base other than for security personnel, the captain said.
The gunman was believed to be enrolled in the base’s Aviation Preflight Indoctrination program. Students in the training hail from countries such as France, Italy, and Norway, in addition to Saudi Arabia, which began sending trainees to the base in 1995.
Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican whose congressional district includes Pensacola, said he was convinced, based on what he had been told, that the shooting was a terrorist act, although he declined to say what led him to that belief.
Senator Rick Scott of Florida, also a Republican, said the attack should be considered terrorism, regardless of the gunman’s motivation.