Navy police officer shot, suspect dead in 'terrorism-related' base shooting
Officials said the gunman voiced support online for hardline clerics and jihadi figures
Juan A. Lozano, Lolita C. Baldor and Mike Balsamo
CORPUS CHRISTI — The suspect killed during what the FBI is calling a “terrorism-related” attack at a Texas naval air base voiced support for hardline clerics, according to a group that monitors online activity of jihadists.
The attack Thursday at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi wounded a sailor and left the gunman dead. The gunman was identified as Adam Alsahli of Corpus Christi, according to three officials familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The gunman tried to speed through a security gate at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, opening fire and wounding the sailor, a member of base security, U.S. officials told the AP. But she was able to roll over and hit a switch that raised a barrier, preventing the man from getting onto the base, the officials said.
Other security personnel shot and killed the attacker.
There was an initial concern that the gunman may have had an explosive device, but Navy experts swept the area and the car and found nothing. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details about an ongoing investigation. Officials worked late Thursday to process the crime scene and had recovered some type of electronic media.
The FBI is examining social media posts investigators believe were made by the shooter expressing support for extremist groups, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, two officials familiar with the investigation said. The officials could not discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday on on “The Today Show" that the wounded sailor is “doing well.” He also said the FBI knows the basics of what happened during the attack but is working through details, including about the suspect.
“We hope to know more in the coming days as to what happened, what this person was motivated by,” Esper said. "But we need to let the facts come out, let the investigators do their job, and we’ll see where this ends up.”
Social media accounts matching Alsahli’s profile on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp featured support for hardline clerics, mostly from Saudi Arabia, and jihadi figures such as Ibrahim al-Rabaysh, who had been a spokesman for the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda and who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2015, according to Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group.
FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Leah Greeves said at a news conference Thursday that investigators were working to determine whether a second person of interest was at large but did not elaborate. She also would not discuss a potential motive or specify what led investigators to believe the shooting was related to terrorism.
“We have determined that the incident (on Thursday) at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi is terrorism related,” Greeves said. “We are working diligently with our state, local and federal partners on this investigation, which is fluid and evolving.”
Later, federal agents were seen carrying items from inside a house that a Corpus Christi police tactical unit had surrounded and a public records search by local television station KRIS indicated was Alsahli’s last known address. A police spokesman would not confirm that the activity was related to the shooting at the Naval station.
The FBI’s field office in Houston has taken the lead on the investigation, and neither investigators nor the Navy provided details on the shooter or a possible motive. Attorney General William Barr has also been briefed, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.
The injured sailor was discharged from a hospital where she was treated for minor injuries, according to a statement from the command.
The station, which was locked down for about five hours Thursday, had a similar lockdown last December. In another incident at the base last year, a man pleaded guilty to destruction of U.S. government property and possession of a stolen firearm for ramming his truck into a barricade at the Corpus Christi station.
The shooting also comes months after a Saudi Air Force officer who was training at a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight other people in a shooting that American officials described as an act of terrorism. The country’s top federal law enforcement officials said this week that the gunman in December's attack, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, had been in touch with al-Qaida operatives about planning and tactics in the months before the shooting. Alshamrani was killed by a sheriff’s deputy.
According to U.S. officials, unlike Pensacola, there are no international or foreign national students at the Texas base. The military put a number of new safety procedures in place after the Pensacola shooting to restrict and better screen international students.