The Florida man who massacred 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub was likely inspired by online “radical” Islamic extremism but there is no evidence showing he acted on orders from overseas, the FBI director said Monday.
“So far we see no indication that this is a plot directed from outside the United States,” FBI Director James Comey said Monday.
Comey’s remarks came just after President Barack Obama himself told reporters that the mass shooting was a case of “homegrown extremism.”
Their remarks came one day after Omar Mateen, a security guard from Port St. Lucie, stormed the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando while wielding an assault rifle and a handgun. He fatally shot 49 people, wounded 53 more, and engaged in a three-hour standoff with police before officers shot him dead in a final gun battle.
“We will continue to look forward and backward,” Comey said of the sprawling investigation. “We will leave no stone unturned and we will work all day and all night to understand the path of that terrible night.”
The massacre is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and has spurred vigils nationwide and renewed political rhetoric over Islamic extremism, gun control and hate crimes against gays. In other developments on Monday:
▪ The Miami Herald learned that Mateen legally bought the AR15 and SigSauer pistol at the St. Lucie Shooting Center, a federally licensed gun shop and shooting range in Mateen’s home city. The guns were traced there by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Mateen purchased the guns in the past weeks. The center was closed on Monday.
▪ Democratic senators announced they are proposing legislation to close loopholes that allow suspected terrorists from buying firearms. Mateen had twice been investigated by the FBI, but was allowed to buy weapons; he had never been charged and was not on any active watch lists.
“When this fella went last week to buy an automatic gun, it would have [been] flagged,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said in a conference call.
▪ Mateen’s father made the media rounds, insisting that his son was no Islamic terrorist while suggesting that he himself held harsh views of gays.
▪ Orlando police offered chilling new details about the attack and gun battle that killed Mateen. The police chief said he was “cool and calm” as he spoke to police by phone, pledging support for Islamic terrorists.
In Washington, Comey also detailed the calls made by Mateen during the attack.
He said the killer — Comey refused to use Mateen’s name, to deny him the infamy he sought — “made clear” his affinity for ISIS and “solidarity” with the Boston Marathon bombers and an American suicide bomber who killed himself in Syria in 2014.
Comey also offered more detail about the FBI’s previous interactions with Mateen, who worked for the large security firm G4S.
Back in May 2013, Mateen was working as a security guard at the St. Lucie courthouse when he made “inflammatory” statements to co-workers. He claimed his family had connections to the Al-Qaida terror network.
“He said he hoped law enforcement would raid his apartment,” Comey said.
Miami’s FBI field office investigated for 10 months, trying to get incriminating evidence by introducing Mateen to confidential informants, following Mateen and scrutinizing his personal life. Ultimately, they found nothing.
Agents interviewed Mateen and he admitted to making the statements, but only because his co-workers were teasing him because of his Muslim faith.
Two months later, in 2014, Mateen’s name surfaced when a source told agents he might have known the American suicide bomber Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who killed himself in Syria in 2014. But the probe turned up no ties.
Comey defended the FBI’s work on Mateen’s earlier cases.
“We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack,” Comey said.