U.S. Officials: More than 20 Saudi Students To Be Expelled In Wake Of Shooting Following the December attack on a naval air station, the Pentagon has suspended training of all Saudi military students, as investigators conduct a review of the more than 800 students in the U.S.
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U.S. Officials: More Than 20 Saudi Students To Be Expelled In Wake Of Fla. Shooting

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U.S. Officials: More Than 20 Saudi Students To Be Expelled In Wake Of Fla. Shooting

U.S. Officials: More Than 20 Saudi Students To Be Expelled In Wake Of Fla. Shooting

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Two U.S. officials have now confirmed to NPR that more than 20 Saudi students in the U.S. for military training are getting sent home after a security review. That review took place after a deadly rampage last month that was carried out by a Saudi flight trainee at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. Here's more from NPR's Bobby Allyn.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: After a Saudi national shot and killed three young sailors at a naval base in December, all Saudi officers studying in the U.S. came under the microscope. There are 850 of them. Federal authorities suspended their training in order to conduct the investigation. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien says the expelling of the students back to Saudi Arabia shows the Trump administration is being extra vigilant about possible insider threats. He was talking to "Fox News Sunday."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

ROBERT O'BRIEN: I think we're being very careful. Obviously, Pensacola showed that there had been errors in the way that we vetted.

ALLYN: The Saudis who are being expelled raised a number of concerns among investigators. One U.S. official told NPR some of the Saudis are being removed because they viewed child pornography. Other Saudi trainees failed to alert authorities about the shooter's extremism, and some of them were involved in extremist online chat rooms. That's according to a second U.S. official. In Saudi Arabia, this will likely come as unwelcome news. That's according to Daniel Byman. He's a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a Middle East expert.

DANIEL BYMAN: They don't like public embarrassment. So having these individuals be expelled, having it make the news is not something that the Saudi regime wants.

ALLYN: The expelling of the Saudi students arrives just as the region is on edge following the American drone strike that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. Byman says expelling the students could make a precarious situation with Iran even more uncertain.

BYMAN: And if there's going to be pressure on Iran, if there's going to be military strikes on Iran, if there's going to be efforts to do diplomacy with Iran, no matter which direction the United States wants to go in, Saudi Arabia is going to be important for that.

ALLYN: Some members of Congress have been calling for a review of how the U.S. screens foreign nationals before they train alongside American military personnel. Pentagon officials value these military exchange programs because they help the U.S. better coordinate with armed forces abroad. But the shooting has amplified scrutiny on who the U.S. allows into these programs. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was interviewed Sunday on CBS' "Face The Nation."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

MARK ESPER: I've signed out directives that address enhanced screening of all of our foreign students, that address credentialing going forward, weapons policies, etc. So we're doing everything we can.

ALLYN: The Saudi who carried out the Pensacola rampage was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy. A Twitter account that has been linked to the shooter included posts criticizing the U.S.'s support of Israel and accusing American foreign policy of being anti-Muslim. Justice Department officials say they will provide the results of their probe into the Pensacola Naval base shooting later today.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Washington.

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