Saudi Arabian students resumed Navy flight training Tuesday, nearly three months after a massacre at Naval Air Station Pensacola by one of their comrades left three dead in a shooting that U.S. leaders linked to terrorism.
Saudi Royal Air and Naval Forces officers in the Navy’s flight training pipeline were restricted to classroom studies or put those studies on hold while the sea service met new requirements on base access and vetting for international military students put in place by the Secretary of Defense following the Dec. 6 shooting by Saudi Royal Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani.
That total includes 64 Saudi students at commands at the Pensacola base and another 26 at the Naval Station Mayport-based Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 40, Naval Education and Training Command spokesperson Cmdr. James Stockman told Navy Times.
On Tuesday, the Navy also began restricting base access for foreign nationals by assignment only. That followed a new regulation prohibiting the possession and use of personally owned firearms.
Other updates include requirements that international military students formally accept the new policies to be permitted to train in the U.S., Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Megan Issac said in an email. The Navy has also developed a policy for continuous vetting of the foreign students which will be implemented by March 13, she said.
“The Navy is making every effort to minimize disruptions to our foreign national partners while implementing the revised security initiatives,” Isaac said in a statement Wednesday. "Foreign military training remains one of the most effective tools to advance U.S. national security, and these actions will enable the Navy to continue to strengthen our alliances and build our partnerships.”
Investigators have said that Alshamrani relied on a hunting loophole to legally purchase a Glock 9mm pistol from a Florida dealer in July, months before an early morning rampage that U.S. Attorney General William Barr characterized as an “act of terrorism."
Though there were no indications that Alshamrani acted in concert with other students, Barr also announced in January that nearly two dozen Saudis who had been in the U.S. for military training were being sent home after investigators discovered either anti-American or “jihadist” material on their social media. About 15 of those students had also had contact with child pornography.
Alshamrani was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during a shootout at the Florida base.
Courtney Mabeus is a senior writer at Navy Times. Mabeus previously covered the military for The Virginian-Pilot, in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier.