U.S. grounds Saudi military students after Navy base shooting in Florida

The Pentagon is grounding Saudi Arabian military aviation students after one of them allegedly killed three sailors and wounded eight others at a U.S. naval base last week in a shooting that the FBI is presuming “was an act of terrorism.”

The suspected gunman, who was killed during the attack, was a 21-year-old member of the Saudi Royal Air Force training at a base in Pensacola, Florida, along with other Saudi nationals. Military from U.S. allies around the world go to the base for flight training.

CBS News’ David Martin confirmed that the grounding, which went into effect Monday and covers 175 students, is expected to last weeks. During that time, the Saudi military students won’t be allowed to fly but will continue classroom training, and the Pentagon will review the program’s vetting process.

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While there are other locations in the U.S. where Saudi military students participate in flight training, the grounding only covers three bases in Florida: Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field and Naval Air Station Mayport.

President Trump said the Saudi king called him in the aftermath of the shooting and expressed his “sympathies.”

“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,” the president tweeted last week. “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.”

The Trump administration has continued a strong relationship with the Saudis, despite concerns over the country’s human rights violations and the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. Saudi intelligence officials and a forensic doctor killed and dismembered Khashoggi on Oct. 2, 2018 as his fiancée waited outside.

The Pensacola shooter had been in the country since August 2017 to participate in a Saudi Arabia-funded U.S. Air Force Foreign Military Sales training and was scheduled to stay until August 2020. The weapon used in the attack was purchased lawfully.

This was one of two shootings on a U.S. Navy base last week. Just days earlier, a sailor had opened fire at a U.S. Navy shipyard in Hawaii, killing two civilian employees and wounding another before dying from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Audrey McNamara contributed reporting.

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