Vance Air Force Base

ENID, Okla. — At least one Saudi in Oklahoma was among the 21 military students from Saudi Arabia removed from U. S. military installations Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, but officials have declined to confirm how many Saudi students were removed from Vance Air Force Base or how many remain.

Attorney General William Barr announced Monday the 21 Saudi military students were returned to their home country as a result of an investigation in the wake of a Dec. 6, 2019, shooting by a Saudi student at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The incident claimed the lives of three Navy sailors and injured eight other people — an attack Barr said was an act of terrorism.

Of the 21 Saudi students removed Monday, 17 had social media containing extremist ideology or anti-American content, though there was no indication any were affiliated with a particular group. Fifteen had some kind of contact with child pornography.

None of the 21 students were accused of having connections to the NAS Pensacola attack, and they represented less than 3% of the estimated 850 Saudi students who were training in the United States as of December, according to figures cited by Reuters.

Twelve of the trainees who were removed were assigned to NAS Pensacola, and the remaining nine were posted at Air Force bases in Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma — where Saudi trainees have been flying with the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base.

In response to a News & Eagle inquiry to the Air Force Air Education and Training Command (AETC), Alyssa Farah, Pentagon press secretary, confirmed removal of the 21 Saudi students but did not address the question of how many were removed from Vance.

Marilyn Holliday, with AETC public affairs, said AETC is "not able to discuss numbers for Saudi students at Vance AFB or squadrons assigned." An inquiry to the Department of Justice Tuesday morning was not immediately answered.

As of Dec. 10, 2019, there were 15 Saudi students assigned to Vance, flying in the T-6 and T-38 training pipelines, according to information provided at that time by Vance public affairs.

AETC did not immediately respond Tuesday to inquiries as to whether any remaining Saudi students at Vance are in a flying status or if they are grounded. An Air Force statement provided to the News & Eagle on Dec. 11 confirmed the Saudi students at Air Force commands were placed in a non-flying status "for a short time" in the wake of the Dec. 6 attack.

Despite the misconduct cited by the 21 removed Saudi students, U.S. officials have said they want to continue training 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."

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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