Florida city hit with cyberattack after deadly naval base attack

Officials expressed caution about linking the two incidents, while keeping possibility of connection open.

    Officials said the city of Pensacola has been hit by a cyberattack, although it was not clear if it is related to previous shooting at naval base [File: Michael Spooneybarger/AP Photo]
    Officials said the city of Pensacola has been hit by a cyberattack, although it was not clear if it is related to previous shooting at naval base [File: Michael Spooneybarger/AP Photo]

    Federal authorities are investigating a cyberattack on the city of Pensacola, Florida, home to the naval air station where officials say a Saudi flight student killed three sailors and wounded eight others on Friday.

    City officials became aware of the attack at about 1:30am (6:30 GMT) Saturday, less than 24 hours after the shooting, in which officials say Saudi airman Mohammed Alshamrani opened fire in a Navy classroom. Authorities  expressed caution about linking the two incidents - although they were not prepared to outright dismiss any connections.

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    "I can confirm the city of Pensacola has experienced a cyberattack and we've disconnected much of our city's network until the issue can be resolved," the city's spokeswoman, Kaycee Lagarde, told the Associated Press news agency.

    "As a precaution, we have reported the incident to the federal government," Lagarde said, acknowledging the deadly violence at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

    She added it's too early to "confirm or dispel" if the incidents were related. 

    A spokesman for the FBI in Pensacola could not confirm to the Associated Press if the agency had a role in the cyberattack investigation.

    Alshamrani, 21, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force and a student naval flight officer, was on the base as part of a Navy training programme designed to foster links with foreign allies.

    He allegedly hosted a dinner party earlier in the week where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings. The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors media, said he also posted a short manifesto on Twitter prior to the attack on Friday, in which he criticised US wars and quoted former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

    Investigators are trying to establish the motive behind the attack. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called Trump on Sunday to express his condolences and assure US President Donald Trump that Saudi authorities would offer their absolute cooperation with the US and provide all information that would help the investigations, the state news agency said.

    Asking for patience

    Much of the Pensacola's computer systems remained offline Monday morning. However, city officials stressed that all emergency services were running, including 911 services.

    Some phone lines to city offices were not working as the city and federal authorities continued their investigation into the killing.

    The city's email and other electronic services were also down until further notice.

    "We're continuing to operate. We just might have to do some things a little bit old-school, with pen and paper," Lagarde said.

    City officials asked for patience in a community still grieving over the shooting at the Navy installation, a central part of the local economy and public life.

    SOURCE: News agencies