A member of the Royal Saudi Air Force opened fire with a handgun early Friday in a classroom building at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, where he had been training to become a pilot. The attack killed three people and wounded eight others in an apparent act of terrorism on the base.
In addition, the gunman, identified as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was killed by law enforcement, according to Sheriff David Morgan of Escambia County.
The Saudi airman posted criticisms of the United States on social media mere hours before his shooting spree, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremism.
Alshamrani wrote that he hated the American people for “committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity,” and he condemned Washington’s support for Israel, SITE reported. He also quoted Osama bin Laden, the Saudi mastermind of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. It would be difficult to read Alshamrani’s comments without pointing a finger at radical Islamic ideology as a major — if not the major — factor behind the attack.
As history has shown us repeatedly, failing to regard such an attack as a warning sign of possible additional attacks can be catastrophic. We did not see al-Qaeda’s attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 as a warning of what would come three years later. The outcome, as we now know, was another, far more lethal attack on our soil. We no longer enjoy the luxury of repeating the same mistake again and again.
Consider, also, that Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani used what he could get his hands on — a handgun — to conduct his attack. What would have happened if he had gained access to more lethal weaponry?
According to the U.K. Daily Mail, "A person familiar with the situation asserted that Saudi Air Force officers selected for military training in the United States are intensely vetted by both countries." If so, accepting Alshamrani to be trained at a military base on our territory illustrates a significant and serious failure in detecting early and covert forms of Islamic radicalism.
In other words, whatever safeguards our military and intelligence have installed since 9/11 could not detect Alshamrani’s intentions. Had he been vetted correctly, therefore, he would not have been accepted in the program to begin with. Furthermore, had his signs of radicalism been detected early enough, and correct action taken against him, the attack would never have happened — three people would still be alive and eight others would be uninjured.
The problem goes back at least a decade. Major Nidal Hasan was a U.S. citizen and an Army major who killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others in the Fort Hood mass shooting on November 5, 2009. Apparently, the same flaws in our system that overlooked Hasan remain, allowing Alshamrani to murder under the influence of his radical ideology.
So far, we have been relatively lucky. Islamic radicals have not yet infiltrated our systems to a point allowing them to release a chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon against us. But relying on luck does not a strategy make. It is an option that has ended in disaster multiple times already, and it will only produce more of the same, particularly if radical Muslims manage to infiltrate our military, intelligence, and security agencies at decision-making levels.
We must do more to develop programs and train our personnel to detect early and covert forms of Islamic radicalism — we cannot afford to do anything less. Otherwise, sooner or later, a radical Muslim ideologue will wield not a handgun, but something much, much more lethal.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.
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