FPI / May 19, 2020
The shooter who killed three American sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola in December had close ties to Al Qaida and had been planning an attack for years, FBI investigators determined after accessing mobile phones that belonged to the terrorist.
The FBI was able to extract the information despite Apple's refusal to cooperate.
Attorney General William Barr said on Monday that the breakthrough surrounding the devices once owned by Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, came as a result of the "relentless efforts and ingenuity of FBI technicians."
"The phones contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani’s significant ties to Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — not only before the attack but before he even arrived in the United States," Barr said. "We now have a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months, and days leading up to his attack.”
Following the Dec. 6 shooting, the FBI asked Apple for help in accessing data from a pair of iPhones owned by the gunman, as investigators had been unsuccessful in unlocking the devices. Apple refused to help.
“It was clear at the time that the phones were likely to contain very important information," Barr said. "Indeed, Alshamrani attempted to destroy both of the phones, even going so far as to disengage from the gunfight long enough to fire a bullet into one of the phones.”
“Unfortunately, Apple would not help us unlock the phones," Barr added.
The information eventually recovered from the phones indicated that Alshamrani's "preparations for terror began years ago," according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
"He had been radicalized by 2015, and having connected and associated with AQAP operatives, joined the Royal Saudi Air Force in order to carry out a 'special operation,'" the DOJ said. "In the months before the Dec. 6, 2019 attack, while in the United States, Alshamrani had specific conversations with overseas AQAP associates about plans and tactics. In fact, he was communicating with AQAP right up until the attack, and conferred with his associates until the night before he undertook the murders."
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the “evidence we have been able to develop from the killer’s devices shows that the Pensacola attack was actually the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation by a longtime AQAP associate.”
“He was meticulous in his planning. He made pocket cam videos as he cased his classroom building," Wray added. "He wrote a final will purporting to explain himself and saved it in his phone — the exact same will that AQAP released two months later when they initially claimed responsibility."
Barr said the U.S. also has used information from the phone to launch a recent counterterrorism operation against one of Alshamrani's overseas associates based in Yemen.
“We will not hesitate to act against those who harm Americans," Barr added.
Apple declined to comment when asked by Fox News about the developments.
Free Press International