AQAP claims “full responsibility” for shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola

Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani (Al-Shamrani), as seen in a new AQAP video claiming responsibility for his shooting in Dec. 2019.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed “full responsibility” for the Dec. 6 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola. The attack was carried out by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani (Al-Shamrani), a member of the Saudi military who was being trained by the Americans. Shamrani was shot dead by local authorities, but only after he killed three people and wounded several more.

AQAP released a special video dedicated to the shooting earlier today. The production features AQAP’s emir, Qasim al-Raymi, who was reportedly killed in a U.S. air strike last month. Raymi’s demise has not been officially confirmed by either the Americans or AQAP. The video was recorded prior to the bombing.

In the video, Raymi claims that Shamrani was serving AQAP, though he doesn’t provide many details to bolster the group’s claimed ties. The video does include pictures from Shamrani’s life in the military, as well as images of his will, which is dated September 6, 2019 — or three months to the day prior to his shooting.

AQAP has helped inspire a series of attacks in the U.S. The group has directed some failed plots, including the attempt to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, as well as other attempts to detonate explosives on board aircraft. AQAP also formulated and facilitated the Jan. 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris.

The production is titled: “And Heal the Breasts of a Believing People, Blessing and Declaration of Responsibility, For the Attack on the US Naval Air Station Pensacola Florida”

It opens with an archival audio clip of Sheikh Umar Abdul Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”), who died in a U.S. prison in 2017, and closes with footage of Osams bin Laden explaining why it is supposedly just to kill Americans. But the video features Raymi throughout, often pairing his image with others, including photos of Shamrani.

Raymi praises Shamrani as a “courageous knight”

After explaining that AQAP has survived one plot after another, Raymi cites Shamrani’s actions as evidence of the jihadists’ perseverance.

“By the help of Allah the Almighty, you will never hear about us except one of the two best things, either victory or martyrdom,” Raymi says.

Raymi continues: “And on the way to fulfil this pledge, we express our praising and blessings to our Muslim nation and declare our full responsibility for the martyrdom operation of the hero, the courageous knight, Muhammad bin Saed Al-Shamrani, may Allah have mercy on him, honor him, rain high his status and make him enter His Paradise.” 

“Al-Shamrani carried out his martyrdom operation on one of the dens of evil and disbelief, which wages war on Allah, His messenger and the believers; it is the US Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida,” Raymi says. “May Allah have mercy on him and reward him on behalf of us and behalf of the Muslim nation.”

Raymi claims that Shamrani was a sleeper agent of sorts, patiently waiting to strike.

“For several years, our hero moved between several US military bases in America to select and contemplate his best and fattest target,” Raymi claims. “Allah bestowed him great patience, and due to the Grace of Him alone, he passed all the military tests and all the security procedures.”

“For years, our hero was hiding his intention in his heart till Allah the Almighty granted him success,” Raymi continues. “He watered America, the enemy of Allah, from the same bitter cup, which she makes Muslims taste it every day.”

The AQAP leader portrays the shooting in Florida as retaliation for a series of crimes allegedly committed by the U.S. (and others) in Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Burma, Mali, Eastern Turkistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. He claims the shooting is “nothing in comparison with the brutal actions” carried out by America against “our Muslim nation.”

Raymi adds that Muslims “have nothing to lose,” so they will continue to undermine American security and destroy its economy.

Portrays Florida shooting as one in a series of global attacks

Raymi attempts to connect the shooting in Pensacola to other recent operations conducted by al-Qaeda’s branches and allies. Namely, the AQAP honcho crows about a Taliban attack in southern Afghanistan earlier in 2019, as well as an assault carried out by Shabaab in Sept. 2019.

In both cases, Raymi grossly exaggerates the number of casualties, claiming that hundreds of Americans were killed when that was not the case.

Raymi says the Florida shooting occurred after “America woke up from the horrendous onslaught which afflicted her by the heroes of the Islamic Emirate in Shorab base, Afghanistan, in which 137 soldiers were killed, among them 15 pilots and 18 engineers.” Footage of the Taliban attack is shown on screen.

“No sooner had America woke up from this disaster, than the lions of Somalia attacked them” in Baledogle Air Base. “In this operation they killed more than 120 of the US troops,” Raymi false claims.

AQAP’s Al-Malahem Media, which produced the video, includes footage of Shabaab’s emir, Sheikh Abu Ubaidah Ahmed Umar, speaking to the team responsible for attack. Abu Ubaidah’s face is obscured.

“In the time that America did not absorb the shock of what has happened to her, suddenly, she has been attacked in its ground, and in a military airbase by a hero from the Arabian Peninsula, killing a number of senior officers and deputies, serious injuring others and thousands fled caring about nothing,” Raymi says, thereby rhetorically tying the shooting in Florida to events in Afghanistan and Somalia.  

Compares Shamrani to other terrorists inspired or directed by AQAP

“Al-Shamrani, may Allah have mercy on him, girded his loins and went to work,” Raymi says. “He did his best to achieve his goal, therefore he reaped what he has sown. And in all of these stages our hero was asking help from Allah alone.”

Raymi claims that Shamrani “conveyed a message” that has been “frequently conveyed by heroes before him.” That message is: “O you Americans, you will never dream to live in peace as long as you are undermining the peace of Muslims.”

The other “heroes” Raymi has in mind include Major Nidal Malik Hassan (the Nov. 2009 Fort Hood shooter), Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the failed Dec. 2009 airline bomber), and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (one of two brothers responsible for the Apr. 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings). Images of all three of them are shown on screen.

Repeats al-Qaeda’s long-standing argument: America is “head of disbelief”

Raymi says that other “heroes after” Shamrani will continue to deliver this message to America. They will continue to deliver it until “America fully understand the words of our martyred Sheikh, Omar Almukhtar, may Allah have mercy on him, ‘We are a nation, which will never surrender, either we win or we die’.”  Omar Almukhtar led anti-colonialists in Northern Africa at the turn of the 20th Century.

“Verily the head of disbelief today is America, the unjust, the sinner, which no single Muslim is safe from her evil. It is the Satan and the Satan is in her head,” Raymi says.

The AQAP chieftain continues: “So O you the heroes, aim your arrows to whom day and night aims her arrows at the Muslims’ throats. Target the Americans in their ground, sit in wait for them at every place of ambush and let your chief concern be America. Each one of you should say, ‘Woe to me if America remains safe’.”

Raymi calls on Muslims living in America (including students, journalists, doctors, engineers, merchants, workers, Arab and non-Arabs) to strike. Addressing Muslims around the world, he says: “We are all Muslims and defending our religion and our Muslim brothers is a religious duty upon all of us. It is not only restricted to Jihad organizations, or centers of dawa. It is a duty upon every single individual of us.”

Toward the end of the video, Raymi ties al-Qaeda’s cause to that of the Palestinians. As footage of knifings and other small-scale attacks is shown on screen, he calls on Muslim men to come to the defense of Palestinian women, who have lashed out on their own.

AQAP uses footage from the July 2016 truck attack in Nice, France (which was claimed by the Islamic State), the Jan. 2015 assault on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, and the Apr. 2013 bombings in Boston, Massachusetts. Raymi says that Muslims should emulate these attacks, using trucks, guns, bombs, or whatever means they can to kill.

Raymi also suggests cyberattacks, as well as targeting prominent American businessmen and other public figures, such as current and former politicians. Images of former U.S. officials, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, are included to underscore Raymi’s call.

“Whoever has knowledge in targeting US banks and companies by cyber-attacks, he can use it to heal the breasts of a believing people,” Raymi says. “Whoever can target the capitalist class, managers of big US companies, they are among the heads of scourge, he can heal the breasts of a believing people.”

Raymi continues: “Whoever can hit the heads of the politicians, senior security officers, senior military personnel, presidents and governors of the US, the current and the former ones, presidents and governors of the US, the current and the former ones, he can heal the breasts of a believing people.”

Raymi points viewers back to AQAP’s Inspire magazine, which included instructions for how to derail a train, as a way to prepare for individual operations.

The video ends with footage of the 9/11 hijackings, a clip of Osama bin Laden threatening America, and clips of attacks by Palestinians.

Screen shots from AQAP’s video claiming responsibility for the Dec. 2019 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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