Fate of hundreds of Saudi military aviation students undergoing training at the military bases across the US hangs in balance after the Pentagon grounded them following Florida's deadly shooting carried out by an officer of the Saudi Air Force.
In the shooting incident carried out by a Saudi Air Force lieutenant identified as Mohammed Alshamrani (21), three sailors were left dead while eight others, including two officers, were injured.
The deceased have been identified as Joshua Kaleb Watson (23) Mohammed Sameh Haitham (19) , and Cameron Scott Walters (21). The attack which took place across two floors of a classroom building at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, ended after Alshamrani was shot down. According to the FBI, Alshamrani carried out the attack with a 9mm handgun which he purchased legally in the US.
No Fly rule imposed on Saudi military aviation students
Though the students have been permitted to carry out classroom studies, their flying training has been put on hold by the authorities. Pentagon's civilian spokesman Chuck Prichard has told BBC that the no-fly rule imposed by the Pentagon covered all the Saudi aviation students undergoing training in the US. "The operational pause affects 852 Saudi students enrolled in all military programmes at "various locations" across the US, though classroom training continues for all," he said.
Immediately after the attacks, the US Navy had halted its flight training to more than 300 Saudi Arabian students undergoing training in Florida based naval bases. There are 140 students at Pensacola Naval Air Station, 35 at Whiting Field, and 128 students at Naval Air Station Mayport, on the Atlantic seaboard.
Confirming the same, Navy Lt Commander Megan Isaac said: "A safety stand-down and operational pause commenced Monday for Saudi Arabian aviation students. The no-fly rule affects 303 Saudi students at three Florida Naval Air Stations: Pensacola, Whiting Field and Mayport. The training hold is expected to last atleast 10 days.
Pentagon asks for a thorough screening of international students
On Tuesday, the Pentagon issued a memo instructing a review of the screening procedure undertaken for international students who participated in training at the US military installations.
Demanding the process to be stricter and more thorough, the memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist also imposed deferral of all operational training including flying for the Saudi Arabian students in US military programs. The memo further said that the screening process should be completed within 10 days during which period the flight ban would be implemented on the Saudi trainees.
Mark Esper ordered for a review of the shooting incident
At present, there are 5000 international students undergoing training at various military bases in the US. The vetting process is carried by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security under which the authorities undertake background and biometric check to ensure that the trainee will not be a security risk.
The US Defence Secretary Mark Esper had ordered for a review after the shooting incident. Even as the FBI is working on finding the reason behind the deadly attack, reports suggesting it to be a terror attack surfaced after some videos of the shooting were uploaded on social media.