Saudis distance themselves.

Saudis distance themselves.

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia sought to distance itself Saturday from a pupil who carried out a fatal shooting at an American naval base, as it attempts to repair its image of being an exporter of Islamic extremism.

The Saudi military student reportedly condemned the US as a’nation of evil’ before going on a rampage Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, killing three people and wounding eight. The shooting marks a setback from the kingdom’s efforts to shrug off its longstanding reputation for encouraging religious extremism following the September 11, 2001 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

The king added in the phone call on Friday that the shooter, who had been gunned down by police,’doesn’t represent the Saudi people’, a sentiment echoed by other officials.

‘Like many other Saudi military personnel, I had been trained at a US military base, and we used that invaluable training to fight side by side with our American allies against terrorism and other threats,’ Prince Khalid bin Salman, the king’s younger son and the deputy defence minister, said on Twitter.

‘A high number of Saudi graduates of the Naval Air Station at Pensacola moved on to serve with their US counterparts in battlefronts around the world, helping to protect the regional and international security. (The) tragic event is strongly condemned by everyone in Saudi Arabia.’ Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, also expressed his ‘deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences’ over the shooting.

Owe a debt

The incident is unlikely to affecct Washington’s close relations with Riyadh, with both governments seeking military and diplomatic cooperation to counter Shiite power Iran. However, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested Riyadh should provide compensation.

‘The government of Saudi Arabia should make things better for these victims, and I think they’re going to owe a debt given that this is one of the individuals,’ DeSantis told US media. Saudis citizens strongly rejected the opinion on social media, with one Twitter use saying:’The government of Saudi Arabia is not responsible for every single person with a Saudi passport.’

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to project a moderate image of his austere kingdom, frequently associated in the West with jihadist ideology. Prince Mohammed has encouraged what observers call a de-emphasis on faith as he pursues a sweeping modernisation drive that has enabled mixed-gender music concerts and ended decades-long bans on cinemas and women drivers.

But the self-styled reformer has confronted global criticism for the kingdom’s poor human rights record, including the jailing of numerous women activists, clerics and journalists.

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