ORLANDO (AFP) – The American gunman who launched a murderous assault on a gay nightclub in Orlando was radicalized by Islamist propaganda, officials said Monday, as they grappled with the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11.
The Islamic State group claimed slain shooter Omar Mateen was acting as “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America’’ when he attacked the Pulse club in the Florida resort city, an assault that ended when police stormed the venue.
But investigators are probing whether he was a jihadist on a mission or a vicious “lone wolf’’ inspired by Islamist propaganda to carry out what President Barack Obama dubbed “an act of terror and an act of hate.’’
Forty-nine people were killed and 53 others wounded in the attack, which was also the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
“We see no indication that this was a plot directed from outside the United States, and we see no indication that he was part of any kind of network,’’ FBI chief James Comey said, adding that investigators were looking into the possible role of anti-gay bigotry.
But he also said the FBI was “highly confident’’ Mateen had been “radicalized’’ while consuming online propaganda and that he had claimed allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a series of calls during the attack.
The slaughter triggered worldwide shock and outrage, but has also raised questions about US counterterror strategy and gun laws. The suspect was allowed to legally buy a rifle and handgun despite raising red flags.
“We make it very easy for individuals who are troubled or disturbed or want to engage in violent acts to get very powerful weapons very quickly,’’ Obama said. “And that’s a problem,’’ Obama said, as the White House demanded that the Republican-controlled Congress pass legislation to curb assault weapons like thwe one used in Orlando.
The White House said Obama would travel to Orlando on Thursday to “pay his respects to victims’ families, and to stand in solidarity with the community as they embark on their recovery.’’
The FBI admitted it had previously investigated the 29-year-old American of Afghan descent, but had cleared him of extremist ties.
Relatives and acquaintances have painted a picture of a violent and unstable young man who had beat his ex-wife and expressed homophobic views.
mATEEN HuNG OUT AT CLUB – pulse patrons
Mateen was himself a regular at the gay night spot, four club goers told local media on Monday.
“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Ty Smith told the Orlando Sentinel, referring to slain shooter Omar Mateen, 29.
Smith told the paper that he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times. “We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times,” Smith said. “He told us he had a wife and child.”
Another Pulse regular, Kevin West, told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen messaged him on and off for a year using a gay chat app. And other club goers told local media and MSNBC that Mateen had been using multiple gay apps, including Grindr, with mutual acquaintances to “hook up.”
Mateen also was at Walt Disney World in April, said a Disney manager who requested anonymity.