The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced new developments in the investigation of the terrorist attack that occurred in December 2019 at a Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL that killed three Americans and wounded eight others. The department discovered that Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the individual who carried out the attack, had been in contact with terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
After Apple refused to help the FBI unlock the contents of two iPhones that Alshamrani owned, the bureau managed to access the data through other means. The DOJ released a statement explaining the agency’s findings.
From the DOJ:
“The phones contained important, previously-unknown information that definitively established Alshamrani’s significant ties to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the United States. The FBI now has a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months, and days leading up to the attack.”
Attorney General William Barr weighed in, taking a shot at Apple and celebrating the discovery. “Thanks to the great work of the FBI – and no thanks to Apple – we were able to unlock Alshamrani’s phones,” he said. He continued:
“The trove of information found on these phones has proven to be invaluable to this ongoing investigation and critical to the security of the American people. However, if not for our FBI’s ingenuity, some luck, and hours upon hours of time and resources, this information would have remained undiscovered. The bottom line: our national security cannot remain in the hands of big corporations who put dollars over lawful access and public safety. The time has come for a legislative solution.”
The FBI’s technical experts found a bevy of information about the terrorist attack. Alshamrani engaged in regular communication with AQAP using end-to-end encrypted apps which included warrant-proof encryption to avoid discovery by law enforcement. According to the evidence, the terrorist had been preparing for this attack for years, having been radicalized in 2015.
In the months leading up to the December 6 attack, Alshamrani discussed tactics with AQAP associates. He remained in communication with him even in the minutes before the murders. According to the DOJ’s statement, “The evidence derived from Alshamrani’s unlocked phones has already proven useful in protecting the American people. In particular, a counterterrorism operation targeting AQAP operative Abdullah al-Maliki, one of Alshamrani’s overseas associates, was recently conducted in Yemen.”
While the corporate press tried to downplay the terrorism angle of the attack by focusing on gun control, it is now even more clear that Alshamrani was motivated by radical Islam. In fact, this situation placed a spotlight on the reality that the U.S. military allows individuals from countries like Saudi Arabia to train with our troops. In the aftermath of the shooting, six other Saudi nationals were detained and eventually sent back to their country.
Radical Islamic terrorism is yet another issue that is not getting much attention due to the focus on the COVID-19 outbreak. But the fact that the FBI was able to gather this information is encouraging, especially since there are likely others like Alshamrani who might be planning similar types of attacks.
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