US authorities are investigating whether anyone helped the gunman who massacred 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, but said they did not believe anyone connected to the shooting posed a current danger to the public.
The FBI and other agencies were looking at evidence inside and in the closed-off streets around the Pulse nightclub, where a shooter pledging allegiance to Islamic State (IS) carried out the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and the worst attack on US soil since September 11, 2001.
The gunman, Omar Mateen, a New York-born Florida resident and US citizen who was the son of Afghan immigrants, was shot and killed by police who stormed the club early on Sunday morning with armoured cars after a three-hour siege.
Officials said the death toll was 50. Yesterday they clarified that this included Mateen.
All but one of those killed had been identified and about half the families of the dead had been notified, officials said.
Julissa Leal, 18, and her mother drove down to the Florida city from Lafayette, Louisiana, in search of her brother, 27-year-old Frank Hernandez. They knew he was at the club with his boyfriend, who lost him in the chaos. “We haven’t heard anything, don’t know anything,” Ms Leal said, fighting back tears. “I’m going to see him again. I’m going to see him again.”
Law enforcement officials were looking for clues as to whether anyone worked with Mateen on the attack, said Lee Bentley, US attorney for Florida’s middle district.
“There is an investigation of other persons, we are working as diligently as we can on that,” said Mr Bentley. “If anyone else was involved in this crime, they will be prosecuted.”
Officials stressed they believed there had been no other attackers and that they had no evidence of a threat to the public.
Mateen, 29, called emergency services during the shooting and pledged allegiance to the leader of IS, officials said. His father said his son was not radicalised, but indicated Mateen had strong anti-gay feelings. His ex-wife described him as mentally unstable and violent toward her.
IS reiterated a claim of responsibility.
“One of the caliphate’s soldiers in America carried out a security invasion where he was able to enter a crusader gathering at a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando,” the group said in a broadcast on its Albayan Radio
Although the group claimed responsibility, this did not necessarily mean it directed the attack: There was nothing in the claim indicating co-ordination before the rampage between the gunman and IS.
The attack, denounced by US president Barack Obama as an act of terror and hate, reignited the debate over how best to confront violent Islamist militancy, and immediately became a sharp point of disagreement in the campaign for the November 8 presidential election.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said the US should walk a fine line in bolstering security without demonising Muslims, and also called for tougher gun safety measures. The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, criticised the US Muslim population for not reporting suspicions to authorities, and reiterated his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
The rampage began just after 2am on Sunday at the nightclub in the heart of Orlando, about 25km northeast of the Walt Disney World Resort. Orlando is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US, drawing 62m visitors a year.
Some 350 patrons were attending a Latin music event at the club. Survivors described scenes of carnage and pandemonium as the shooter took hostages inside a bathroom.
Police said the officers who responded to the attack saved “dozens” of clubgoers and eventually used explosives and a heavy vehicle to punch a hole in the building’s wall, through which more people escaped. Mateen also emerged through the hole and was shot dead, police said.
Mateen was an armed security guard at a gated retirement community, and had worked for the global security firm G4S for nine years. He had cleared two company background screenings, the latest in 2013, according to G4S.
Despite his 911 call expressing support for IS, US officials said they had no conclusive evidence of any direct connection with foreign extremists.
“So far as we know at this time, his first direct contact was a pledge of bayat [loyalty] he made during the massacre,” said a US counterterrorism official. “This guy appears to have been pretty screwed up without any help from anybody.”
Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told reporters yesterday he was angered by his son’s actions.
“I am sorry,” the father said. “If I did know, 1%, that he was committing such a crime myself, I would have arrested him myself, I would have called FBI.”
In an earlier interview with NBC news, the father described an incident in downtown Miami in which his son, saw two men kissing in front of his wife and child and became very angry.
Mateen’s former wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters near Boulder, Colorado, that she had been beaten by Mateen during outbursts of temper in which he would “express hatred towards everything”.
Outside the Port Saint Lucie gym where Mateen once worked as a security guard, member Jon Mckenzie recalled Mateen as being rude about insisting on seeing identification.
Authorities said Mateen had been twice questioned by FBI agents in 2013 and 2014 after making comments to co-workers about supporting militant groups, but neither interview led to evidence of criminal activity.
The attacks underlined the inherent difficulties of providing security at open public events.
“We are determined to continue living in an open and tolerant way even if such murderous attacks plunge us into deep mourning,” said German chancellor Angela Merkel, during a visit to China, as messages of condolence poured in from around the world.
The attack came six months after a couple in California — a US-born son of Pakistani immigrants and a Pakistani-born woman he married in Saudi Arabia — killed 14 people in San Bernardino at an office party in an shooting rampage inspired by IS. The couple died in a shootout with police hours after that attack.
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