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US To Expel 21 Saudis Flagged In Pensacola Shooter Probe

(Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Anders Hagstrom Video Columnist
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The U.S. military will expel 21 Saudi nationals participating in the same trainee program as the shooter who killed three sailors and wounded eight more at a Naval Air Station in Pensacola in December.

Attorney General Bill Barr announced the expulsions Monday, saying a probe into the trainee program found child pornography and “jihadi or anti-American content” in the 21 students’ social media activity, ABC News reported. Twelve of the students were stationed at the Naval Air Station with Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, who carried out the attack. (RELATED: Pensacola Shooting Suspect Reportedly Called U.S. ‘Nation Of Evil,’ Hosted Dinner To Watch Mass Shooting Videos)

Attorney General William Barr, Jan. 13, 2019, is at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. (YouTube screen grab/Justice Department)

Attorney General William Barr, Jan. 13, 2019, at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. (YouTube screen grab/Justice Department)

“17 had social media containing some jihadi or anti-American content,” Barr said in a statement. “However, there was no evidence of any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group. 15 individuals (including some of the 17 just mentioned) had had some kind of contact with child pornography.”

The students are being sent back to Saudi Arabia, where U.S. officials say they will face “harsh punishment.” There is still an ongoing probe into whether some of the students were aware of Alshamrani’s plans prior to his attack, and the Saudi government has promised to extradite the students back to the U.S. if they are implicated, according to ABC.

The investigation into the attack has also been under a legal microscope after authorities asked Apple to break into Alshamrani’s phone. Apple has refused to assist the investigation, however, and hasn’t specified whether they are actually capable of breaking into a locked phone.

Barr argues it is critical that investigators gain access to encrypted messaging apps on Alshamrani’s phone to determine whether anyone assisted him in planning the attack.

“This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence,” Barr said.