President Donald Trump takes part in a round table discussion on business and red tape reduction in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2019.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that he had spoken by phone to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Al-Saud, following a deadly shooting on a Pensacola, Florida naval base. Authorities have said that the shooter, who killed at least three people and wounded at least eight, was a visiting Saudi national.
“King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida,” Trump tweeted shortly after 2:00pm on Friday.
“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people,” Trump added.
Shortly afterwards Trump said the attack “was a horrible thing that took place, and we’re getting to the bottom of it,” during a White House event on deregulation.
Law enforcement officials told NBC News that the suspect was member of the Saudi Air Force who was visiting the U.S. for training. They also identified the gunman, who was killed by officers responding to the incident, as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.
At a press conference Friday afternoon near the naval base, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims,” adding that the oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom was “going to owe a debt here given that it was one of their individuals.”
At the White House, Trump declined to say whether or not the shooting was an act of terrorism, telling reporters, “that’s all being studied now.”
The results of this investigation, Trump said, “will be a report and the report will come out very soon.”
The base commander, Capt. Timothy F. Kinsella Jr., likewise declined to comment on whether the shooting was being investigated as an act of terrorism, saying only that the suspect was “training in aviation” at the base.
But Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., whose congressional district includes the Pensacola naval base, told a local TV station Friday afternoon, “we can safely call this an act of terrorism, not an act of workplace violence.”
The top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., also said the shooting “bears the hallmark signs of a terror attack,” but noted that the “FBI is conducting a full investigation into the shooter’s motives.”
“I urge Saudi Arabia to cooperate completely with the investigation. It is vital that we fully understand the specifics of how the attacker was approved to enter the United States and attend flight training,” Rogers said.
Late Friday afternoon, the Saudi government issued a readout of the call between Trump and King Salman in English. It said that Salman “stressed the Kingdom’s full support to the United States,” and “directed Saudi security services to cooperate with the relevant American agencies to uncover information that will help determine the cause of this horrific attack.”
A complicated ally
The Trump administration has a notoriously complex relationship with Saudi Arabia, with the president highly reluctant to criticize the Saudi government’s repressive and at times violent practices, for fear of upsetting the financial and security ties the U.S. shares with the Saudi monarchy.
Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, Trump took pains not to directly assign blame for the murder to Riyadh, putting him at odds with his own CIA and the United Nations, both of which concluded that Khashoggi was assassinated at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Speaking to reporters in November of that year, Trump said he had been told that bin Salman “did not play a role,” adding, “We’re going to have to find out what” the Saudis “had to say” about the murder.
In the same breath, however, Trump called Saudi Arabia “a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.”
Nine months later, when asked again about Khashoggi’s murder, this time following a UN report concluding that bin Salman was responsible, Trump said, “I’m extremely angry and unhappy about a thing like that taking place.” But he conspicuously refused to blame the Saudi government.
“They spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” the president said on NBC’s Meet the Press that same week. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”