ISIL massacre in gay club shocks US
ORLANDOU.S. anti-terror strategy has come under fresh scrutiny after a gunman previously cleared of jihadist ties launched a hate-fueled rampage in a Florida gay club that left 49 people dead.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed it was behind June 12’s carnage at the Pulse nightclub, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. It said in a radio bulletin yesterday that the attack on the “crusader gathering” was carried out by “one of the soldiers of the caliphate.”
World leaders joined in condemning the murderous assault, which triggered grief and shock but also defiance in the LGBT community as monuments from New York to Paris were being lit up in memory of the victims.
Terrified survivors described how the gunman raked club-goers with bullets, prompting a police SWAT team to storm the venue and shoot dead the attacker, 29-year-old Omar Mateen.
The FBI admitted that Mateen had previously been investigated – but cleared – for ties to a U.S. suicide bomber. Special Agent Ronald Hopper also said Mateen reportedly placed a 911 call pledging allegiance to ISIL shortly before the attack.
“We know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” U.S. President Barack Obama said.
The Orlando assault is being treated as the worst act of terror on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks claimed by al-Qaeda.
June 13’s claim on al-Bayan radio followed a report by the ISIL-linked news agency Amaq on June 12 that the attack had been “carried out by an Islamic fighter.” Mateen was born to Afghan parents in New York in 1986 and lived in Port St. Lucie, Florida, about a two-hour drive from Orlando. His father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News his son may have been motivated by homophobia, insisting: “This had nothing to do with religion.”
The suspect’s ex-wife, who divorced him in 2011, told reporters he had been violently abusive to her but was not especially religious. But Hopper told reporters Mateen’s behavior had raised red flags well before the massacre.
In 2013 he was probed by the bureau after making inflammatory comments to co-workers that suggested terrorist ties.
In 2014 he was again questioned by agents for his contacts with Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a fellow Floridian.Abusalha became notorious as the first U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing in Syria, and was reportedly a member of an al-Qaeda affiliate.
“We determined the contact was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or a threat at that time,” Hopper said. The Orlando atrocity came at the height of what is already a heated U.S. presidential election campaign.
Democratic flag-bearer Hillary Clinton postponed a campaign rally with Obama and tweeted that her “thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act.”
Her Republican rival Donald Trump lost no time in claiming the attack proved he was right to promise a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
Trump demanded Obama resign for failing to publicly blame the massacre on “radical Islam.”
“If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore,” Trump said. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, echoed Trump’s line: “As we heal, we need to be clear-eyed about who did this. We are a nation at war with Islamist terrorists.”
Events at Pulse unfolded over a three-hour period from around 2 a.m. on June 12, when shots rang out amid the throbbing music. Witness Janiel Gonzalez described scenes of mayhem as the gunman sprayed revelers with bullets. “It was like complete chaos,” he told AFP. “It was like a scene out of a movie. People were screaming ‘Help me, help me, I’m trapped!’ People were getting trampled. There was no clear exit sign at the club, so we didn’t know which door to take or where to go.”
Police said the gunman was armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. A policeman working “extra duties” at the club responded and, along with two other officers, exchanged fire with the suspect. Police stormed the venue after the suspect fell back inside, and broke through a wall with a wheeled armored vehicle known as a BearCat.