Two months after gunfire erupted at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL, ending the lives of three U.S. sailors, one of the most notorious Islamic terrorist groups in the world has belatedly claimed credit for the attack.
“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed on Sunday that it directed a Saudi military officer to carry out the shooting,” reports The New York Times. “In an audio recording released on Sunday, the leader of the Yemen-based group, Qassim al-Rimi, claimed responsibility for the Dec. 6 attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, according to SITE, an organization that tracks jihadist media.”
There is some veracity to the claim; the group often referred to as AQAP provided a copy of Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani’s will, which, reports the Times, “gave the claim a plausible air.” Alshamrani, a Saudi pilot being trained by the U.S. military as part of a joint project with Saudi Arabia, was responsible for the December 6 attack.
According to Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Riedel, the claim from AQAP – if true – would mean “that AQAP has infiltrated the Saudi military, which is an embarrassment for the Saudis.”
A month ago, Attorney General William Barr officially released the Justice Department’s assessment of the attack, declaring it an act of terrorism.
“The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology,” Barr said on January 13. “During the course of the investigation, we learned that the shooter posted a message on social media on Sept. 11 of last year that said: ‘the countdown has begun.’ Over Thanksgiving weekend, he visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. He also posted other anti-American, anti-Israeli, and jihadi messages on social media, and did so two hours before his attack at the naval base.
“Early reports indicated that the shooter arrived at the site, accompanied by other Saudi cadets, who took video of the attack as it unfolded,” Barr continued. “These reports turned out not to be accurate. The shooter arrived by himself. Other Saudi cadets happened to be in the area and, after the attack began, they took some videos of the resulting commotion. They fully cooperated in the investigation, as did the other Saudi cadets who were interviewed by the FBI at Pensacola and at additional bases across the country.”
Whether or not other Saudis were aware of the impending attack is a question that remains shrouded in mystery.