US kicks out 21 Saudis after terrorist attack; Apple refuses to unlock dead terrorist’s phone

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 15, 2020

(from BBC News) — Twenty-one members of the Saudi military are being expelled from the US after a Saudi cadet carried out a mass shooting at an air base last month.

The servicemen are not accused of aiding the 21-year old Saudi Air Force lieutenant.

But US Attorney General William Barr said the Saudi cadets kicked out of the country were found to have had jihadist material and child porn in their possession.

Three sailors were killed and eight wounded in the December 6 attack by the Saudi air force terrorist. Training for Saudi servicemen was put on hold in the US after the attack.

Mr. Barr told a news conference on Monday that the shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola was an “act of terrorism.”

He said he had asked Apple to unlock two iPhones that belonged to the gunman, who was killed by police in the attack. The gunman fired a bullet into one phone in an effort to destroy it, Mr. Barr said, but FBI investigators were able to restore the device.

“It is very important to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died,” but the devices are “engineered to make it virtually impossible to unlock them without the password,” Barr said.  “We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance.”

[The FBI obtained court approval on probable cause to search the devices.] However, Apple only gave the FBI iCloud data from the attacker’s online account, the New York Times reported, but refused to unlock the phone, saying it would undermine their own encryption software.

The tech firm has clashed previously with the FBI over requests to unlock iPhones belonging to terrorists. In 2016, a Pakistani-American and his Pakistani wife murdered 14 people and injured 22 others in San Bernadino, California. A similar clash over the terrorist’s phone was resolved when the FBI found a way to unlock it without help from Apple. [Aided by the unnamed group, FBI technology experts were able to open the iPhone without jeopardizing its contents. A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the information stored on the phone was extracted.]

Mr. Barr said that initial reports that other Saudi cadets had filmed the attack as it unfolded were inaccurate. The gunman had arrived at the scene of the shooting alone, he said.

The attorney general said 17 of the expelled cadets were found to have possessed online terrorist material. Fifteen, including some of the 17 who possessed online terrorist material, had indecent images of children, he added.

“While one of individuals had a significant number of images, all the rest had one of two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by some other person or received over social media,” said Mr. Barr.

He said the 21 cadets were being disenrolled and returned home on Monday. The Saudi cadets, he said, had fully co-operated with FBI investigation.

Mr. Barr also said the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had given “complete and total” support to the inquiry. Saudi officials had determined the cadets’ conduct was “unbecoming an officer in the Saudi Royal Air Force and Royal Navy,” said the attorney general.

He added that the expelled cadets had not been charged with any crime in the US, but might face prosecution back home. There are more than 850 Saudi military cadets conducting training in the US.

Investigators say the attacker, Second Lt Mohammed Alshamrani, had shown videos of violence to his colleagues at a dinner party before the attack. The 9mm handgun he used was purchased lawfully.

Asked about the planned expulsions on Sunday, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told Fox News the Pentagon had decided to expel the Saudi cadets.

“Obviously Pensacola showed that there had been errors in the way that we vetted,” said Mr. O’Brien. “And I think out of an abundance of caution Secretary [of Defense Mark] Esper’s taking these actions to protect our service men and women.”

The Pensacola base has long offered aviation training to foreign military forces. Saudi pilots started training there in 1995, alongside other personnel from Italy, Singapore and Germany. [At the time of the Pensacola shooting, there were about 850 Saudi military personnel training at various locations in the US, part of a total of about 5,000 from 29 NATO nations and other allies.]

After last month’s attack, the base’s commanding officer said that about 200 international students were enrolled in programs in the Pensacola base. According to its website, the base employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel.

Published at bbc .com. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from BBC News.