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Pensacola naval base shooting suspect identified as member of the Saudi military: Why was he there?

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PENSACOLA, FL (CNN/ABC News) — Friday’s shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, in which four people, including the shooter, died, marks the second time this week gun violence erupted at a U.S. military installation.

But while Wednesday’s shooting in Hawaii was related to a domestic issue, the attack on Friday became international incident after it was reported the suspect was a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Mohammed Alshamrani, according to authorities, was one of about 200 foreign nationals receiving training on the naval air base as part of a program in which U.S. allies send members of their armed forces there to study aviation.

Alshamrani’s training on the base, which included English language and basic aviation courses, started in August 2017 and was scheduled to finish by August 2020, according to the Department of Defense.

His participation in the program is part of a military practice that goes back decades, NAS Pensacola base commander Capt. Timothy Kinsella said during a press conference in the aftermath of the shooting

“The cross-training with allies is something that we have done for a long time,” he said. “In World War II, we had Royal Air Force folks training here.”

Saudi Arabia, according to the Pentagon, is one such ally, and has supplied 852 of the more than 5,000 foreign military students spread throughout the U.S.

Germany, Singapore, Italy, Denmark and Norway have also sent students to Naval Air Station Pensacola, also known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.”

NAS Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to the base’s website. The facility includes the Naval Aviation Schools Command, Naval Air Technical Training Center, Marine Aviation Training Support Group 21 and 23, the Blue Angels and the headquarters for Naval Education Training Command.

According to Kinsella, only authorized security forces are allowed to carry weapons on the base. It’s still unclear how Alshamrani was able to bring a handgun into the classroom and begin shooting.

And while Alshamrani’s motive remains unclear, law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News authorities are focusing on two possibilities: that he was acting for ideological reasons, or that some kind of hostilities developed over the course of his training.

Shortly after the shooting, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saudi Arabia was “going to owe a debt here,” and numerous Saudi officials condemned the attack in statements.

“Today’s tragic shooting at Pensacola, Florida was a heinous crime. The Kingdom expresses its deepest condolences to the families of victims, and to the American people. We salute the bravery of those who neutralized the threat and saved lives,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan tweeted.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Friday that the vetting process for foreign military nationals in the U.S., including screenings by the Department of Defense and U.S. embassy personnel, will be reviewed.

“I want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence,” Esper said, “to understand what are our procedures.”

ABC reported Sunday that authorities are investigating the shooting as a possible act of terror.

The FBI Sunday trying to determine whether the 21-year-old Saudi national acted alone when he opened fire inside a military building at the base where he was training.

At the same time, the three victims killed in the attack have now been identified.

Additionally, authorities say the gunman’s Saudi classmates are being kept on the base and cooperating with questioning.

Military bases are now on alert, but authorities emphasize there’s no known danger.

Officials traced the gunman’s footsteps, claiming he and several classmates made a recent sightseeing trip to New York City. Sources tell ABC news they’re investigating classmates’ claims that Alshamrani watched videos of mass shootings in front of friends at his home just days before the carnage. They believe it served as a way of psyching himself up.

Members of the FBI’s joint terrorism task force are working tirelessly to discern, if any, possible ideology that may have been a factor in this attack.

The FBI now pouring through surveillance images and cell phone recorded from a bystander taken directly after his deadly rampage. It was a 45 Glock 9 millimeter. He did purchase it legally and lawfully.

Tonight, a solemn procession mourning the loss of three sailors. 23-year-old Joshua Watson, who aspired to be a jet pilot. Sameh haitham, whose father called an exceptional kid. And 21-year-old Cameron Walters, a Navy aviation student.

The two officers wounded after heroically confronting the gunman are recovering. The deputies that went in and neutralized this evil, if you will, and were able to save countless lives.

While officials tell ABC that usually a non-U.S. citizen cannot legally obtain a gun in the United States, there is an exception under federal law that allows an official representative from a friendly foreign government to obtain one.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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