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As Saudi Pilot kills 3 Americans At US Naval Base – Where America’s Terrorists Actually Come From !

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Syrian refugees have committed zero attacks in the United States.

The Pensacola attack by a Saudi pilot: Implications for US-Saudi ties

A member of the Saudi Air Force killed three people at Naval Air Station Pensacola before he was shot dead by officers responding to the scene. Brookings Senior Fellows Daniel Byman and Tamara Wittes each weigh in on what we know, what we don’t, and what it could mean for U.S.-Saudi relations.

Daniel BymanDaniel Byman (@dbyman), Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy: Early this morning, a Saudi Air Force trainee stationed in Florida killed three people at the Pensacola Naval Air Station and wounded eight more. Representative Matt Gaetz, who represents Pensacola, has already declared the killings “an act of terrorism” and called for “extreme vetting” of foreigners who come to America to train. There is much we don’t know, and after such killings we inevitably have more questions than answers. However, the initial reports raise questions and offer food for thought as we wait for more information.

Other Saudis on the base are being questioned.

Six other Saudi nationals were detained for questioning near the scene of the shooting, including three who were seen filming the entire incident, according to a person briefed on the initial stages of the investigation.

It was not known whether the six Saudis detained were students in the classroom building, and there was no immediate indication that those filming the incident were connected to the gunman, the person said.

The gunman

Was it a terrorist attack?

We don’t know yet if the shooting was a terrorist attack. It very well might be, but a lot depends on the answer to a single question: Did the shooter have a political motive? Because he was a Saudi, there is a rush to assume a jihadi link — a predilection that is particularly strong given the important role Saudis played in perpetrating the 9/11 attacks. Yet the shooter might be mentally disturbed, angry over a personal grievance, or otherwise violent for non-political reasons. This is the fourth shooting incident at a U.S. military base this year, and none of the others were linked to terrorism.

What do we want of Saudi Arabia?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has already called for compensating the shooting victims, but blood money is not what we should seek. This is especially so as the Saudi government is usually aggressive at going after jihadi groups because it sees them as a threat to the kingdom’s own security. Instead, what we need immediately from Saudi Arabia is information. Answering the question of terrorist intent may require interviews with those who knew the pilot, any writing or social media posts he left as a record, and similar data that might help us understand what was behind the violence.

If a terrorist goal is established, the next questions concern whether he had links to a broader network or others who inspired, trained, or otherwise helped make the attack happen. If, as is often the case, he had associates, then the priority is rooting out the network, and the Saudis and the United States should work closely to do so. If he acted alone, then the counterterrorism focus of the kingdom should be on preventing others from consuming propaganda or otherwise being inspired. Here the Saudi record is much weaker, as the kingdom has often been the source of hateful propaganda and support for radical causes that have helped indoctrinate future jihadis.

Recognize success as well as failure

Assuming it was a terrorist attack, it is tempting to jump to the conclusion that terrorism is on the rise, that counterterrorism as a whole is failing, or otherwise make dire predictions. But, before Pensacola, jihadis have killed zero Americans on U.S. soil so far this year, a rather impressive record. And President Trump was right to be proud that the Islamic State has been hit hard and its leader killed. Just as we must consider what the horror at Pensacola means, we must also recognize the many successes that have occurred.

An ISIS billboard in Raqqa, SyriaNOUR FOURAT / REUTERS This weekend, Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News to explain why Donald Trump’s decision to bar Syrian refugees from U.S. shores and suspend visas for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries did not amount to a Muslim ban. “What we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger,” the former New York City mayor said, in reference to the targeted nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. “Which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. … It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.”

But Trump’s policy does not have the factual basis that Giuliani claims. The data on terrorism in the United States consistently indicates that the threat largely lies elsewhere.

ISIS does control territory in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, while al-Qaeda has a major presence in Yemen and the terrorist group al-Shabab is based in Somalia. The U.S. State Department alleges that the governments of Iran, Sudan, and Syria support international terrorism. The Trump administration also selected these countries because the Obama administration and Congress had previously designated them as places people couldn’t visit if they planned to participate in the U.S. visa-waiver program.


    In addition, people from the countries in Trump’s crosshairs have certainly committed acts of terrorism in the United States; a Somali refugee injured several people in an attack at Ohio State University just this fall. Asylum-seekers have also recently been implicated in terrorist plots in Europe.

    But after sifting through databases, media reports, court documents, and other sources, Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, has arrived at a striking finding: Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.


    Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period, according to Nowrasteh’s research. (Nowrasteh focused on plots against the U.S. homeland, which presumably Trump cares most about, rather than other terrorism-related offenses, like supporting a foreign terrorist group or trying to join a jihadist organization overseas.) Zero Libyans and zero Syrians have been convicted of doing the same. “Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard,” Nowrasteh argues, “but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism.”

    As for refugees, Nowrasteh writes, Trump’s action “is a response to a phantom menace.” Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.

    Zero Americans have been killed by Syrian refugees in a terrorist attack in the United States.

    Between 1975 and 2015, the “annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist,” according to Nowrasteh.

    Nowrasteh has listed foreign-born individuals who committed or were convicted of attempting to commit a terrorist attack on U.S. soil by their country of origin and the number of people they killed. As in any exercise like this, the statistics are rough and directional rather than precise. For example, the San Bernardino attacker Tashfeen Malik, who was born in Pakistan but lived in Saudi Arabia most of her life, is counted as originating from Saudi Arabia. In the case of attacks perpetrated by multiple terrorists, like 9/11, each terrorist is assigned an equal number of victims.

    Still, it’s worth noting that the countries at the top of the list, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are not included in Trump’s ban. I’ve bolded the countries included in Trump’s executive order.




    The 9/11 attacks were carried out by 19 men—from Saudi Arabia (15), the United Arab Emirates (2), Egypt (1), and Lebanon (1). The incident remains influential in how Americans think about the nature of terrorism; Trump’s executive order cites 9/11 as a prime example of the U.S. visa process catastrophically breaking down. But it’s misleading as a guide to where today’s terrorists come from.
    Nowrasteh found that foreign-born terrorists who entered the country, either as immigrants or tourists, were involved in 3,024 of the 3,432 murders caused by terrorists on U.S. soil from 1975 through 2015. But 2,983 of those murders came on 9/11 alone.

    The stereotype of the foreign terrorist infiltrator is outdated, according to the New America think tank. The organization has compiled its own data on patterns of terrorism in the United States, which unlike Cato’s focuses on jihadist terrorism in the country following 9/11. The dataset includes people charged with terrorism-related crimes, not just those convicted, as well as U.S. citizens and residents rather than solely foreigners.

    “[E]very jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident,” New America reports. During that time period, more than 80 percent of individuals who were charged with or died engaging in jihadist terrorism or related activities inside the United States have been U.S. citizens or permanent residents (the tally also includes Americans accused of engaging in such activity abroad). Many have been second-generation immigrants: The Orlando nightclub attacker, for instance, was a U.S. citizen and son of Afghan immigrants. One of the San Bernardino shooters was a U.S. citizen and son of Pakistani immigrants; the other, Tashfeen Malik, was a Pakistani national and conditional U.S. permanent resident who came to the United States on a fiancee visa.


    As Jane Holl Lute, the former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said at the Aspen Ideas Festival last year, “What’s been our theory of the case for 12 or 15 years following 9/11? Our theory of the case is the bad guys are out there, trying to come here. … What if [the bad guys are] already here?”

    The 9/11 attackers entered the United States using various types of visas. But between then and 2015, “among attackers claiming or appearing to be motivated by extremist Islam, only one would have needed a visa to enter the United States at the time of the attack,” according to yet another tally, by The New York Times. Half of the prominent jihadist attacks analyzed by the Times were carried out by men born in the United States. “Security experts argue that the risks of routine travel—including the U.S. visa waiver program, which allows citizens of Britain, France, Belgium and 35 other countries to enter the United States without a visa for stays of up to 90 days—are greater than the threat of foreign terrorists coming through the refugee program,” the paper added.

    Trump is understandably focused on the threat from ISIS. But here, too, the statistics don’t align with Trump policy. Since 2014, the majority of individuals charged in the United States with ISIS-related offenses have been U.S. citizens (58 percent) or permanent residents (6 percent), according to George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. Additionally, more ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria appear to come from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and China than any countries included in Trump’s ban.

    One could argue that America hasn’t experienced high levels of terrorism by foreign-born individuals precisely because, well before Trump, the U.S. government was limiting immigration from countries afflicted by terrorism, and subjecting the modest number of refugees it accepted to more rigorous vetting than any other type of traveler to the United States. As my colleague Graeme Wood has written, “If the Islamic State intends to kill Americans by sending an Iraqi or Syrian to get a visa, they are doing it the hard way. Most of the attackers will blow themselves up out of frustration with the American immigration bureaucracy before they can ever reach American shores to blow themselves up near their intended targets.”

    But even if that’s the case, it still doesn’t explain why the Trump administration would suddenly block all refugees and citizens of entire countries, as if it were confronting Syrian refugees and Iraqi immigrants pouring across America’s borders to commit terrorism. Like his border wall, which will be erected to stop a mass Mexican migration that no longer exists, Trump’s immigration ban is a solution that misdiagnoses the actual problem.

    As Nowrasteh notes, future terrorists could very well come from different countries than terrorists have in the past. Judged by the evidence to date, however, Trump’s ban “will likely stop few terrorists, prevent zero deaths, and slightly reduce immigration and tourism. All minor economic pain, no gain.”

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    URI FRIEDMAN is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering national security and global affairs.

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