News Briefs – January 15, 2020

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U.S. sends home nearly two dozen Saudi cadets after shooting

The U.S. sent home 21 Saudi military students following an investigation into a deadly shooting last month by one of their fellow trainees at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, an attack that Attorney General William Barr said was an act of terrorism driven by some of the same motivations of the Sept. 11 plot.
The trainees who were removed had jihadist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had “contact with child pornography,” including in internet chat rooms, officials said. None is accused of having had advance knowledge of the shooting or helped the 21-year-old gunman carry it out.
The Justice Department reviewed whether any of the trainees should face charges, but concluded that the conduct did not meet the standards for federal prosecution, Barr said.
The Dec. 6 shooting at the base in Pensacola in which Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight other people focused public attention on the presence of foreign students in American military training programs and exposed shortcomings in the screening of cadets. Monday’s resolution singled out misconduct by individual students but also allows for continued training of pilots from Saudi Arabia, an important ally in the Middle East.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave complete and total support for our counter-terrorism investigation, and ordered all Saudi trainees to fully cooperate,” Barr said. “This assistance was critical to helping the FBI determine whether anyone assisted the shooter in the attack.”
Barr said the kingdom has agreed to review the conduct of all 21 to see if they should face military discipline and to send back anyone the U.S. later determines should face charges. AP
 

U.S. dismisses Iraq request to work on a troop withdrawal plan

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister asked Washington to work out a road map for an American troop withdrawal, but the U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 bluntly rejected the request, saying the two sides should instead talk about how to “recommit” to their partnership.
Thousands of anti-government protesters turned out in the capital and southern Iraq, many calling on both Iran and America to leave Iraq, reflecting their anger and frustration over the two rivals — both allies of Baghdad — trading blows on Iraqi soil.
The request from Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi pointed to his determination to push ahead with demands for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, stoked by the American drone strike on Jan. 3 that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In a phone call Jan. 9, he told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that recent U.S. actions were unacceptable breaches of Iraqi sovereignty and a violation of their security agreements, his office said.
He asked Pompeo to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism” to carry out the Iraqi Parliament’s resolution on withdrawing foreign troops, according to the statement.
The State Department flatly dismissed Abdul-Mahdi’s request, saying U.S. troops are crucial for the fight against the Islamic State group and it would not discuss removing them.
Pompeo indicated Jan. 10 the troops would remain, adding that the U.S. would continue its mission to help train Iraqi security forces and counter the Islamic State group. AP

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