The United States Attorney General, William Barr, confirmed Monday that the shooting at the Pensacola (Florida) military base, which left three US sailors dead and eight wounded, was an act of terrorism. Barr detailed in a press conference the results of the FBI investigation into the attack on December 6 by Mohammed Ashamrani, a lieutenant in the Saudi air force. "The evidence shows that the attacker acted motivated by jihadist ideology," said the attorney general. In addition, he made a public appeal to Apple to unlock the mobile phones of Ashamrani, who was killed by police in the shooting. "So far, Apple has not given us any substantive help," Barr said. The tech giant refuses to give access to the attacker's iPhone by considering that it jeopardizes the safety of its customers.
The deputy director of the FBI, David Bowdich, said Monday that the 21-year-old attacker, who was conducting a training course at the Pensacola base, fired during the shooting against images of President Donald Trump and that of a former US president, and that, according to the witnesses, the lieutenant of the Saudi air force criticized the United States military actions abroad. Barr added that on September 11, Ashamrani posted a message on social media that said: "The countdown has begun." Also that last weekend's Thanksgiving weekend, the attacker visited the monument dedicated to those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
With images of two mobile phones destroyed behind him, the attorney general publicly urged Apple to unlock the devices of the deceased attacker to find out if he previously discussed his plans with other members of the naval base and if he acted alone or was part of a network. Authorities said Ashamrani intentionally shot one of the phones during the shooting. "This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators can access digital evidence once they have obtained a court order." The attorney general did not clarify whether the Department of Justice will seek a court order to force Apple to unlock the phones.
The main lawyer of the FBI, Dana Boente, sent a letter last week to Apple requesting the unlocking of the two iPhone of Ashamrani. "Although the attacker is dead, the FBI, as a precaution, has obtained the authorization of a court to access the contents of the phones in order to exhaust all the clues in this high-priority national security investigation," he wrote Boente in the letter. "Unfortunately, the FBI has not been able to access the contents of the phones," he added.
The technology rejected the request through a statement in which he defended that he had already helped the FBI agents in the case of Pensacola by sharing the relevant data that the attacker had stored in the cloud: "We have the greatest respect for the application of the law and we have always worked cooperatively to help in their investigations. " In 2016, a federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI by unlocking the iPhone used by one of the two perpetrators of the San Bernardino (California) shooting in December 2015 in which 14 people died. The technology company refused to comply with the order it defined as "an unprecedented step" and that would mean "a threat to the security" of its customers.
Ashamrani had started a three-year training course in August 2017 at the Pensacola military base as part of a Pentagon cooperation agreement with Riyadh in which Saudi citizens train in the United States. Barr said investigators had found anti-American material in social media publications of 21 Saudi cadets, who were already discharged from training.
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