March 9, 2021

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3 families sue Saudi Arabia over Florida shooting

3 min read

Three Navy sailors were killed in the attack and several others were wounded

The families of three U.S. service members killed and 13 others who were severely wounded at Naval Air Station Pensacola have sued Saudi Arabia over its role in the Dec. 6, 2019 attack.

Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Al-Shamrani was a flight student enrolled in the Security Cooperation Education and Training Program and while wearing his Saudi Air Force uniform, he fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition killing three Navy service members; severely wounding four sailors, a Navy civil servant, seven sheriff’s deputies and a Department of Defense police officer. Al-Shamrani was killed by law enforcement during the attack.

According to the lawsuit, Saudi Arabia knew of Al-Shamrani’s radicalization and anti-American sentiments, which were publicly associated with a Twitter account bearing his name.

In May, Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray said Al-Shamrani had communicated directly with al-Qaida operatives in an attack that they described as “a brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation,” based on newly revealed evidence obtained from the shooter’s iPhones.

Al-Shamrani made efforts to destroy his phones, even shooting a bullet through one of them, Barr said.

“The phones contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Al-Shamrani’s significant ties to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the United States. We now have a clearer understanding of Al-Shamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to his attack,” he said.

From that evidence, investigators came to believe Al-Shamrani had been preparing for years after being radicalized in 2015 and joined the Royal Saudi Air Force in order to carry out a “special operation.” Al-Shamrani continued to communicate with AQAP right up until the attack, they said.

After the attack, Mohamed bin Salman told President Donald Trump that Saudi Arabia would be “taking care of (the victims’) families and loved ones.”

To date, Saudi Arabia has refused to honor its word or engage with those who were injured and the families of the service members who were killed, the families said.

“I will never forget how Cameron was transformed once he graduated just weeks before the attack — so proud of his uniform and ready to serve,” said Shane Walters, the father of Cameron Walters who was killed in the attack. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia let this happen. While the prior White House administration refused to even call me, this one must do its part to stop coddling the Saudi regime and hold them accountable.”

Cameron was a 21-year-old airman apprentice. His father had also served in the Navy.

“Nothing is going to bring back Mohammed, who was full of life and cared deeply about his family and country. But I have to do something to remember him and holding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia accountable is part of that,” said Evelyn Brady, who’s 19-year-old son Mohammed Sameh Haitham was killed in the attack.

He was also an airman apprentice and he followed in his mother’s footsteps after she had served 20 years in the Navy.

“We were robbed of such a precious gift, snuffed out in a moment from hatred and bitterness. Our family lost a lot, and our country lost a lot,” said Benjamin Watson.

Watson’s son, Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, was shot five times but he was able to warn others about the shooter and identify his location before being shot again, this time fatally.

The 23 year old was a 2019 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a commissioned officer stationed at Pensacola.

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