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DoD says it will update vetting for foreign military students

Defense secretary Mark Esper will visit Naval Air Station Pensacola, shown here in March 2016, Jan. 22 and 23 to discuss updated vetting processes for foreign military students who come to the U.S. to train. On Dec. 6 a member of the Saudi Air Force opened fire inside the Naval Air Station Pensacola, killing 11. Photo by Patrick Nichols/U.S. Navy
Defense secretary Mark Esper will visit Naval Air Station Pensacola, shown here in March 2016, Jan. 22 and 23 to discuss updated vetting processes for foreign military students who come to the U.S. to train. On Dec. 6 a member of the Saudi Air Force opened fire inside the Naval Air Station Pensacola, killing 11. Photo by Patrick Nichols/U.S. Navy

Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The Department of Defense announced Thursday that it plans to update the vetting process for foreign military students "in the coming days."

According to a DoD press release, Defense secretary Mark Esper will visit Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida on Jan. 22 and 23 to update air station leaders on the new vetting and security procedures following the Dec. 6 shooting by a military student from Saudi Arabia.

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According to Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, vetting of military students was previously handled by the home country of the students, but the Pentagon is considering using its own resources to vet candidates for the international training program.

"We've taken an enhanced look on how we can use our resources to do enhanced vetting," he said. "We owe that to our people and owe that to the families, but we also want to ensure that this program continues."

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Hoffman noted more than a million students from about 150 countries have trained in the U.S. over the program's 20-year life "and until the Pensacola shooting, we've never had a serious security incident."

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The day after the shooting Esper said he would review the screening process for foreign military students entering the U.S.

At least 20 Saudi students were sent to their home country this week following a Pentagon and FBI investigation of what Attorney General Barr has described as an "act of terrorism" motivated by "jihadist ideology."

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Three people were killed, and eight others injured, in the attack.

The shooter, Lt. Mohammed Saeed al-Shamran, was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force training at the base.

Some of the students who were expelled this week were expelled because they did not inform authorities of the gunman's extremist political views, and others because they have themselves engaged in extremist online commentary or have been linked to possession of child pornography.

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Barr said there was evidence al-Shamran held anti-American views, but no evidence of "assistance or pre-knowledge of the attack."

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