By ALEXANDER MALLIN and LUKE BARR, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Monday is expected to announce that the suspect who carried out the December shooting at a Pensacola Naval Air Station had communicated directly with a suspected Al Qaeda operative, a U.S. official familiar with the probe confirmed to ABC News.
The FBI found that the suspect, Mohammed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force, was found to have been in touch with at least one member of the terrorist organization before the attack, that official said.
Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray are expected to make the announcement at a press conference later Monday morning.
Alshamrani was killed by law enforcement during the attack.
The shooting at that Pensacola, Florida, naval base in December killed four people and wounded eight.
In a news conference in January, the attorney general said an investigation of the shooter has determined he was “motivated by jihadist ideology,” and called the attack an “act of terrorism.”
The Justice Department has said that twelve of the 21 Saudi students identified were trainees at the Pensacola Naval Air Station while the other nine were receiving their training in military facilities across the U.S.
A review of the trainees computers and personal devices found that several of the students had possessed “derogatory material.”
“Seventeen had social media containing some jihadi or anti-American content,” Barr said. “However, there was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group. 15 individuals (including some of the 17 just mentioned) had had some kind of contact with child pornography.”
The trainees were not prosecuted by the United States, but the Saudi armed forces had determined the cases “demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer,” and the students were subsequently dis-enrolled from service, Barr said.
On Sept. 11, the shooter posted a message on social media the “countdown has begun.” Investigators also learned that he visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City over Thanksgiving weekend, and posted anti-American messages as recently as two hours before carrying out the attack at the base.
FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said at the time, the FBI interviewed “more than 500 people.” The shooting itself lasted 15 minutes, Bowdich said, he was engaged by law enforcement about eight minutes in. He was killed by responding law enforcement and found to have possessed 180 rounds of ammunition.
The FBI also determined that the shooter had studied Al Qaeda’s U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whose propaganda campaign may have inspired more radicals than anyone outside of Osama Bin Laden before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
The shooting also exposed a rift between U.S. law enforcement and Apple.
At the time, Barr and Bowdich criticized Apple for its lack of cooperation, saying that the company has “has not given us any substantive assistance.”
Apple, in a statement, rebutted the characterization.
“The characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.”
“Within hours of the FBI’s first request on December 6th, we produced a wide variety of information associated with the investigation. From December 7th through the 14th, we received six additional legal requests and in response provided information including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts,” the company said.
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