Editorial

Shooting in Pensacola: On Saudi aviation student’s crime

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Saudi Arabia is not doing enough to counter Islamist tendencies at home and abroad

The deadly shooting at Florida’s Pensacola Naval Air Station by a Saudi aviation student that killed three and injured eight others is a fresh challenge to the Saudi authorities who are trying to remake the kingdom’s image after a series of recent setbacks. U.S. federal investigators say they are yet to establish the gunman’s motive, but some lawmakers have already claimed it was an act of terror. The suspect, Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, who had been training in the U.S. for two years, had watched mass shooting videos a week before Friday’s assault, say investigators. A Twitter handle that is believed to have belonged to him called the U.S. a “nation of evil” and blamed it for “crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity”. This is not the first time a Saudi national is attacking Americans inside the U.S. Fifteen of the 19 al-Qaeda-linked terrorists behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, were Saudi citizens. But U.S.-Saudi relations have deepened over the years despite the 9/11 attacks. U.S. President Donald Trump, in his quest to contain Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, has doubled down on America’s ties with the Kingdom. But his push for stronger ties with the Saudis had faced severe resistance from U.S. lawmakers. The murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, suppression of dissent at home by the Saudi authorities, and the ongoing Saudi-led war on Yemen have all brought renewed global focus on the character of the Saudi leadership.

Riyadh was quick in condemning the “barbaric” Pensacola shooting, saying the shooter did not represent the Saudi people. The incident is unlikely to upset the U.S.-Saudi military ties immediately as both countries need each other in the larger geopolitical setting; 2,000 more American troops could be sent to the Kingdom to take on Iran. But the incident could strengthen the perception, especially among U.S. lawmakers, that the conservative Kingdom is not doing enough to flush out extremism given that the attacker was a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force. It also raises questions about the vetting standards of both countries. More important, it is America’s lax gun rules that allowed the shooter to buy the Glock 45 9-mm handgun which he used for the attack. Initial reports suggested that he used a loophole in the gun laws to buy the weapon legally. Despite repeated incidents of gun violence — most by Americans against Americans — the U.S. federal government could do little in addressing the problem. Worse, Mr. Trump and his Republican Party are opposed to stringent gun control rules. The U.S. has to first review its lax gun rules and then address issues such as vetting standards, foreign military ties and radicalism in general if it wants to prevent such incidents.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 1:36:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/shooting-in-pensacola/article30239179.ece

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