The government of Saudi Arabia is being sued by relatives of those killed and injured in the 2019 terror attack on the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, with the families accusing the Saudi authorities of being complicit in the shooting.
Three U.S. service members died in the shooting on the Florida base, and 13 others were wounded.
Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, carried out the attack with the support of ‘accomplices,’ court documents allege.
The suit was filed on Monday in Pensacola.
Foreign governments and leaders are usually immune from civil suits in U.S. courts while in office.
However, the lawsuit cited exceptions for terrorism and for victims of Saudi Arabia.
The families say Shamrani was assisted by fellow Saudi air force trainees, whom he told of his plans at a dinner the night before.
He also informed his colleagues during a November visit to the 9/11 memorial in New York City, which was arranged to pay tribute to the hijackers – many of whom were Saudi.
Joshua Watson, 23 (left), and Mohammed Haitham were killed in the December 2019 attack
Cameron Scott Walters, 21, also died in the shooting. Walters followed his father into the forces
In May U.S. authorities announced that they had decrypted Shamrani’s phone, and that he had worked with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for five years to plan the December 6, 2019, attack.
Shamrani was shot dead by sheriffs deputies.
Three trainees died in the attack: Airman Apprentice Mohammed Haitham, 19; Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23: and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21.
Thirteen others were injured: four Navy service members, a Navy civil servant, seven sheriff’s deputies and a Defense Department police officer.
Two are partially disabled for life.
Airman George Johnson, 26, a single parent who now must use a cane, was hit seven times, including with one bullet that was blocked by a metal ‘I love you’ card from his mother in his wallet.
Jessica Pickett, a 20-year-old Navy veteran and civilian employee, was struck nine times and has a metal rod in her left leg and a gap in her femur and requires a walker or wheelchair.
Mohammed bin Salman is pictured meeting Donald Trump and Jared Kushner in May 2017
Trump, pictured with MBS, as the crown prince is known, at the G20 in Japan in June 2019
The families also accused the Trump administration and the Saudi government of failing to support the families.
‘In the eyes of the American people, there is no greater betrayal than the realization that a purported ally is, in fact, an enemy, ‘ the lawsuit asserts.
The 152-page suit seeks damages for an attack the families say was caused by Saudi Arabia and its willful or grossly negligent acts in sending a ‘Trojan Horse’ terrorist to the U.S.
Shamrani was dispatched to learn to fly warplanes that were part of U.S. arms sales worth billions of dollars.
‘I think they knew he was out to destroy the American people and he was a terrorist,’ said Evelyn Brady, a 20-year Navy veteran whose son, Airman Apprentice Mohammed Haitham, 19, was killed while running unarmed toward the shooter with his hands up, pleading with him to stop.
‘Innocent lives were lost. It should have never happened,’ she told The Washington Post.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, center, and Navy Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, right, look on as an Air Force carry team moves the transfer case containing the remains of Navy Seaman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters
Bill Barr, the then-attorney general, in January 2020 described it as a terror attack, but found that Shamrani acted alone.
The families, however, disagree.
In their suit they claim that Saudi authorities knew of the radicalization of Shamrani, and of anti-American and anti-Jewish statements he shared via Twitter.
Shamrani died in the December 2019 attack
Despite Shamrani’s views, he was one of two students chosen from his Royal Saudi Air Force Academy class for a scholarship to enter a joint military training program in the United States.
The suit further claims that the Saudi commanding officer on base and 11 other unnamed trainees knew that Shamrani had broken rules by purchasing a 9-millimeter handgun and ammunition, and storing them on the base.
‘None of the Royal Saudi Air Force trainees at the scene of the attack reported Al-Shamrani’s behavior nor did they try to stop the NAS Terrorist Attack. Because they supported it,’ the suit asserts.
Three months before the attack, on the September 11 anniversary, Shamrani posted a message on social media saying: ‘The countdown has begun.’
Later that month he sent a copy of his will to AQAP explaining his plans for the Pensacola shooting, the suit alleges.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the suit said, Shamrani and other trainees visited the memorial in New York City to those killed in the September 11 attacks, in which 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
The trainees ‘discussed the plans for the NAS Pensacola Terrorist Attack,’ the suit claims.
It also asserts Shamrani hosted a dinner party for fellow trainees on the eve of the attack, at which he screened videos of mass shootings and discussed his plans for the next day.
At least three trainees who attended the dinner called in sick the next morning, one of whom stood outside the building and recorded the shooting on his cellphone while two others watched from a nearby car, the suit claims.
That so many trainees were at least sympathetic to al-Qaeda and that several were ‘actually accomplices’ demonstrates their belief that their extremist views ‘were in furtherance of [the kingdom’s] political and religious goals,’ the suit claims.
The suit goes further than the U.S. government, which in January 2020 declared it a terror attack, but claimed that it was carried out by a lone wolf.
Donald Trump is pictured with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in May 2017 in Riyadh
Barr said 21 cadets from Saudi Arabia, including 12 from the Pensacola base, were unenrolled from their training and would be returning to the kingdom.
U.S. officials, he announced, said they found evidence that 17 Saudis had shared Islamist or anti-American material through social media.
Fifteen — including some of those who had shared anti-American material — were found to have had contact with or to have possessed child pornography.
Shane Walters, 47, the father of Cameron Scott Walters, said he was convinced the Saudis knew of Shamrani’s plot.
Walters, a former Navy mechanic and currently the sales team manager at Gulfstream Aerospace, pointed out that Shamrani had openly supported terrorism for two years before being accepted to the program.
‘Why? How did he get here? They had to have known,’ he told The Washington Post.
Walters accused the Trump administration of failing to prioritize ‘dealing face-to-face’ with the Saudis over the attacks.
He also noted that neither Donald Trump nor anyone within the Saudi royal family spoke with the families of the killed or wounded.
Walters said he felt the Trump administration was more interested in arms deals, and cozied up to Saudi Arabia ‘in a way no president ever has,’ Walters said.
‘I don’t think my son’s murder, or Mo’s murder, or Joshua’s murder, was a top priority.’
The suit cited Trump saying to reporters after a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman: ‘The king will be involved in taking care of the families and loved ones . . . likewise the crown prince.
‘They are devastated by what took place in Pensacola. And I think they are going to help out the families very greatly.’
President Joe Biden’s administration has already taken a markedly different tack with the Saudis.
Biden has canceled arms sales, criticized human rights abuses and the harassment of dissidents, and vowed to ‘recalibrate’ ties with the kingdom and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It is also expected to make public as early as this week a long-sought U.S. intelligence report concluding that the crown prince ordered the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.