The FBI official leading the probe into the mass shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola refused at a Sunday press conference to confirm rumors and reporting swirling around the slain Saudi gunman’s motives.
Addressing reporters inside the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center in Pensacola, Rachel Rojas, the special agent in charge of the Jacksonville Field Office, said 80 FBI agents and task force officers are being assisted by 100 other staffers nationwide to figure out why Mohammed Alshamrani killed three sailors and wounded eight others at the Navy base.
They’ve been joined by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Homeland Security Investigations and other federal, state and local law enforcement departments and Rojas urged patience while they continue “looking very hard at uncovering his motive.”
Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, was a student naval flight officer at Naval Aviation Schools Command.
Downplaying reporting that federal agents had detained Saudi citizens in Pensacola, Rojas said that Alshamrani’s fellow students “continue to cooperate with this investigation.” She said that their Saudi commander has restricted them to base and that officials in Riyadh ordered them to provide “full and complete cooperation” to agents.
When asked if they were detained by federal law enforcement, Rojas said, “They’re not in our custody,” adding that no arrests have been made in the case.
Discounting rumors that federal officials have been unable to find Saudi citizens to interview, Rojas insisted the Navy has assured her that the sea service has “100 percent accountability on all international students” at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Rojas refused to confirm reporting that suggested Alshamrani had attended a “watch party” featuring mass shooting videos — adding that she didn’t want “to continue the misinformation campaign" — or stories that indicated others had recorded the shooting spree.
Hours after the press conference concluded, FBI spokeswoman Amanda Warford Videll told Navy Times in an email that investigators had recovered multiple videos from base security surveillance, plus cell phone footage “taken by a bystander outside the building after the attack had started and after first responders had arrived.”
She said FBI agents interviewed the person who took the images and continue to analyze them “to determine if any details can further this investigation.”
Officials have said that Alshamrani died in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers who responded to the Friday shooting.
Rojas said that the FBI is treating the case with “the presumption of an act of terrorism,” a move that frees the agency to merge counter-terrorism and criminal investigations to more quickly determine if he acted alone or as part of a wider network and find any ongoing threats to the United States.
So far, she said, there’s no evidence of a lingering threat to the people of Pensacola.
Rojas said that it appeared Alshamrani, 21, “legally and lawfully” obtained the murder weapon — a Glock Model 45 9mm — in Florida.
Federal regulations allow non-immigrant international visitors to possess firearms if they hold a valid hunting license or permit, are official representatives of a foreign government or fall under other exemptions.
She said that agents continued to interview witnesses to the shooting, base personnel, Alshamrani’s classmates and friends.
Anyone with information about the gunman is urged to telephone 1-800-CALL-FBI.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.