The finding clears the way for the military services to resume training more than 850 Saudi students at the discretion of service officials. Training was suspended after 2nd Lt. Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, an aviation student, opened fire at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Dec. 6. A sheriff’s deputy killed him in a shootout, authorities have said.
Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist ordered a “safety stand-down” that allowed Saudi students to continue receiving classroom instruction but removed them from flight training and other operational instruction. Norquist said the Pentagon wanted to bring its vetting of foreign students in line with that of U.S. troops.
The new Pentagon screening also includes reviews of social media accounts, a senior defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Shamrani, 21, arrived in the United States in 2017 as part of a lengthy program to become a weapons system operator in an aircraft, but he may have embraced extremist ideology as early as 2015, a Saudi government analysis found. A Twitter account believed to be Shamrani’s included posts that expressed outrage at “crimes against Muslims,” including the presence of U.S. forces in Muslim countries, the imprisonment of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and U.S. support for Israel.
Hassan Hassan, a scholar on Middle East issues at the Center for Global Policy, said the Saudi government analysis was designed to shift blame away from the Saudi government, which was responsible for vetting Shamrani, to a few clerics who may have influenced him.
About 5,000 international military students are spread across several bases in the United States as part of a long-running program designed to foster close ties between the U.S. military and partner nations. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest participants in such training, with more than 28,000 international students trained to date, defense officials have said.
Killed in the attack were three sailors: Mohammad Sameh Haitham, 19; Joshua Kaleb Watson; 23; and Cameron Scott Walters, 21. The Navy posthumously awarded them Wings of Gold for their efforts to stop the shooting.
Missy Ryan contributed to this report.