FBI phone probe links al Qaeda to Saudi who killed 3 at Florida base

The FBI cracked the iPhone encryption of the Royal Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three American sailors in a December attack at a US naval base in Florida and found evidence linking him to al Qaeda, Attorney General William Barr said on Monday.

The shooter, Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, was killed by law enforcement during the December 6, 2019 attack.

He was on the base as part of a US Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.

The Justice Department succeeded in unlocking the encryption on the shooter’s iPhone after Apple Inc declined to do so, Barr told reporters on a conference call.

“The information from the phone has already proved invaluable,” Barr said.

Barr called on Congress to take action-forcing Apple and other tech companies to help law enforcement agencies get through encryption during criminal investigations.

He added:

Apple’s decision has dangerous consequences. Many of the technology companies that advocate most loudly for warrant-proof encryption … are at the same time willing to accommodate authoritarian regimes.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In January, it said that it was working with the FBI on the investigation.

“We reject the characterisation that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation,” it said at the time. “Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough, and are ongoing.”

In February, an audio recording purporting to be from the Islamist militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the fatal attack, but it provided no evidence.

Prior to the shooting spree, which also wounded eight people, the shooter posted criticism of US wars and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on social media.

“The evidence we have been able to develop … shows that the Pensacola attack was actually the brutal culmination of years of planning,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said on the same call, adding that evidence showed Alshamrani had been radicalized by 2015.

Barr has said the Saudi government did not have any advanced warnings of the shooting.

However, in January, Saudi Arabia withdrew its remaining 21 cadets from the US military training program and brought them back to Saudi Arabia, after the Justice Department’s investigation revealed that some of them had accessed child pornography or had social media accounts containing Islamic extremist or anti-American content.

FBI accidentally revealed Saudi diplomat linked to 9/11

Earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has accidentally disclosed the name of a Saudi diplomat suspected of aiding two Al-Qaeda hijackers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, reported by Anadolu Agency.

The mistake was made in a declaration by an FBI official in response to a lawsuit by families of 9/11 victims who say the Saudi government was involved in the attacks.

The filing by Jill Sanborn, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, was released in April but unsealed late last week, according to Yahoo News.

Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah was mistakenly named in the declaration. Al-Jarrah was a mid-level Saudi Foreign Ministry official who was assigned to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1999 and 2000.

He was in charge of supervising the activities of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs employees at Saudi-funded mosques and Islamic centers in the US, according to the report.

The authorities believe that Al-Jarrah instructed two people – Fahad al-Thumairy, a cleric, and Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi agent – to help two of the hijackers settle in the US in January 2000 ahead of the attacks.

Al-Jarrah’s whereabouts remain unknown, but he is believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

Brett Eagleson, a spokesman for the families, told Yahoo News

Yahoo News said it contacted the Justice Department on Monday, but officials notified the court and withdrew the FBI’s declaration from the public docket.

“The document was incorrectly filed in this case,” the docket now reads, said the report.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks, masterminded by slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, led to the deaths of 2,753 people when members of the terrorist group hijacked two airliners and slammed them into New York’s World Trade Center, destroying the towering buildings and sending plumes of debris shooting through the US’s most populous city.

A third plane struck the Pentagon just outside of Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.