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Pensacola gunman's cellphones reveal meticulous planning for attack, Federal Bureau of Investigation says

The gunman who killed three USA sailors at a military base in Florida a year ago repeatedly communicated with Al Qaeda operatives in the months leading up to the attack, United States officials say.

The FBI cracked the iPhone encryption of the Royal Saudi Air Force trainee, second lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, who was killed by law enforcement during the December 6, 2019 attack, US Attorney-General William Barr said.

In January, 21 members of the Saudi military training in the United States were sent home after an investigation into the attack. "Why can't we hold the biggest exporter of terrorism in the world accountable?"

They heavily criticised Apple for refusing to help them unlock communications on the terrorist's devices. He had been undergoing flight training at Pensacola as part of instruction offered at American military bases to foreign nationals. Besides the three sailors who died, eight other people were injured.

Barr said that investigative leads generated by Alshamrani's phones led to a recent US counterterrorism operation in Yemen targeting Abdullah al-Maliki, one of Alshamrani's AQAP associates.

In an interview on "America's Newsroom" with host Ed Henry, Lankford decried Apple's alleged refusal to help unlock certain facial recognition software, noting that the time lost between suspecting the shooting was a terror attack and Barr's confirmation was substantial and critical to a US response.

"He wasn't just coordinating with them about planning and tactics". "He was helping the organization make the most it could out of his murders".

Asked whether al-Qaida had directed or inspired the attacks, Wray said it was "certainly more than just inspired".

The phones have already yielded valuable intelligence, officials said, citing a recent counterterrorism operation in Yemen that targeted an AQAP associate Alshamrani had been in touch with.

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Attorney General Barr said at a press conference today, "Thanks to the great work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - and no thanks to Apple - we were able to unlock Alshamrani's phones".

"The developments in this case demonstrate a need for some legislative solution", he said. The DOJ says that this was done on goal to avoid law enforcement.

"The bottom line: our national security can not remain in the hands of big corporations who put dollars over lawful access and public safety", Barr said.

Apple said it gave the feds iCloud backups, account information and "transactional data", but acknowledged it wouldn't help hack into Alshamrani's iPhones.

Apple pledged to continue building devices with strong encryption, adding that creating a "backdoor" for law enforcement access "will make every device vulnerable to bad actors who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers".

In February, an audio recording purporting to be from the Islamist militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the shooting, but it provided no evidence. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or Aqap, has always been considered the network's most unsafe branch and has attempted to carry out attacks on the USA mainland.

They claim to have access to the two phones content bypassing the encryption.

Barr has said the Saudi government did not have any advanced warnings of the shooting.



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