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Pensacola Shooting Incident Cancels Training of Saudi Aviation Students in Florida

(Photo : Getty Images)
The bodies of the 2 sailors shot in Pensacola were transferred to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware

In the aftermath of Friday's deadly shooting in Florida, the US has grounded hundreds of Saudi military aviation students at bases across the country.

While classroom studies will continue, all flying will be paused. It comes after Secretary of Defense Mark Esper ordered a review after a lieutenant of the Saudi Air Force shot three sailors at a navy base.

The FBI said the gunman, who was shot dead by police, was trying to determine the motive. Police say they work on the presumption that it was a terrorist act.

Pensacola's shooting has put the long-standing relationship between the US and Saudi under scrutiny. The Saudi military offensive in Yemen and last year's murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi have already strained ties.

Navy Lt Commander Megan Isaac told the BBC that for students of Saudi Arabia's aviation, a security stand-down and operational pause started Monday.

She said the no-fly rule in three Florida Naval Air Stations affects 303 Saudi students: Pensacola, Whiting Field and Mayport. Civilian Pentagon spokesman Chuck Prichard told the BBC that Saudi Aviation students across the US were bound by the no-fly rule.

He said the operational pause affects 852 Saudi students enrolled in all military programs at different locations across the US, although training in the classroom continues for everyone. A senior official of the Pentagon told the US partner of the BBC and CBS News that the training pause would last for at least five to ten days.

For all 5,000 foreign military students studying in the US, the officials said the defense department is undertaking a study of screening. Mr. Esper told Fox News on Sunday that he had advised senior officers in the defense to look at bases security measures. President Donald Trump has vowed to review foreign military programs.

Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, and Cameron Scott Walters, 21, were named the victims of last Friday's attack at the Pensacola base. The sailors' bodies have been moved to Delaware's Dover Air Force Base. It occurred on two floors of a classroom building and ended when the gunman identified by the FBI as Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, was killed by a sheriff's deputy.

Eight people, including two officers, who are expected to recover, were also wounded in the attack. The FBI said that in the US, Alshamrani bought his 9 mm pistol weapon. The attack comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has maintained friendly relations with Riyadh in the midst of high tensions with Iran's competitor in the Middle East.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper dismissed suggestions that the shootings might make him more reluctant about new US deployments to Saudi Arabia, announced in October and first reported by Reuters. An online terrorism monitoring group said Alshamrani appears to have shared criticism of US conflicts in predominantly Muslim countries and cited former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Twitter hours before the shooting spree. Esper said he had instructed the armed forces to review both military bases security and screening for foreign soldiers after the shooting to come to the US to train.

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