175 Saudi military aviation students grounded in US

Updated December 11, 2019

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In this file photo taken on August 29, a color guard holds Saudi Arabia's flag while waiting for Saudi Vice Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman arrival for an honor cordon at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. — AFP
In this file photo taken on August 29, a color guard holds Saudi Arabia's flag while waiting for Saudi Vice Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman arrival for an honor cordon at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. — AFP

WASHINGTON: Nearly 175 Saudi military aviation students have been grounded as part of a “safety stand-down” after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people last week at a US Navy base in Florida, officials said on Tuesday.

The FBI has said US investigators believe Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he attacked a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, before he was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff.

The shootings have again raised questions about the US military relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has come under heightened scrutiny in Congress over the war in Yemen and the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Still, US military leaders have sought to portray this as a localised issue which would not affect the overall US-Saudi relationship.

“A safety stand-down and operational pause commenced Monday for Saudi Arabian aviation students,” said Lieutenant Andriana Genualdi, a Navy spokeswoman.

Another US official said the grounding was to help Saudi students prepare to eventually restart their training and similar procedures would have been taken if such an incident took place in a US military squadron.

Genualdi said the grounding included three different military facilities: Naval Air Station Pen­sacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field and Naval Air Station Mayport, all in Florida.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2019