Government

NAS Pensacola Murders Ordered by al-Qaida

The FBI broke the terrorist's iPhone encryption to confirm he did not act alone.

Thomas Gallatin · May 20, 2020

Attorney General William Barr announced on Monday that Mohammed Alshamrani, the Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd lieutenant studying at Naval Air Station Pensacola who shot and kill three U.S. Navy sailors last December, was not a “lone wolf” but was in fact acting in direct coordination with al-Qaida. Barr explained that the FBI was able to make this determination via data retrieved from his Apple cellphones.

“The phones contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani’s significant ties to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the United States,” Barr stated. “We now have a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to the attack.”

Barr further noted, “It was clear at the time that the phones were likely to contain very important information. Indeed, Alshamrani attempted to destroy both of the phones, even going so far as to disengage from the gunfight long enough to fire a bullet into one of the phones.”

Alshamrani had become radicalized by the time he first made contact with an al-Qaida operative in 2015. His objective for entering the U.S. was to carry out a terrorist attack, which was planned with the help of al-Qaida. As noted by FBI Director Christopher Wray, “The evidence we have been able to develop from the killer’s devices shows that the Pensacola attack was actually the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation by a longtime AQAP associate.”

Other than confirming that the Navy Air Station attack was indeed an act of jihadi terrorism, the Justice Department’s announcement also highlighted an important development — that the FBI was able to access the encrypted data on Alshamrani’s cellphones without Apple’s help. Barr pointedly noted, “Unfortunately, Apple would not help us unlock the phones.” Indeed, the FBI has been in an ongoing legal dispute with Apple to break into encrypted iPhones ever since the San Bernardino terrorist attack. It now appears this case may be moot if the FBI has developed its own abilities to break into encrypted iPhones.

“Now that the FBI has this knowledge, where else might they apply it?” asks Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey. “Apple had resisted cooperating on this case in part to preserve its customers’ privacy, and probably in part because of the FBI’s declining reputation for respecting the boundaries of law. The recent revelations on Operation Crossfire Hurricane and FISA warrant practices won’t boost confidence in the FBI’s ability to get past that encryption now either, even if in this case they unlocked critical information that reminds us of the threat al-Qaeda still poses.”

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