On June 12, 2016, Americans across the nation stood glued to their television screens as the tragic news unfolded of the deadliest mass shooting in US history and the largest terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. The horrific massacre at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida left 50 dead and dozens more seriously injured.
During the attack, the shooter, Omar Mateen, called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher he claimed allegiance to ISIS and solidarity with the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria for Al Nusra Front, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James B. Comey.
“It is also not entirely clear at this point just what terrorist group he aspired to support; although, he made clear his affinity, at the time of the attack, for ISIS, and generally, leading up to the attack, for radical Islamist groups,” Comey said.
“We’re working hard to understand the killer, and his motives, and his sources of inspiration, but we are highly confident that this killer was radicalized, and at least, in some part, through the Internet,” Comey added.
This is not the first time Mateen came up on the FBI’s radar. The FBI first became aware of him in May 2013 when he was working as a contract security guard at a local court house. Mateen had made some concerning statements about terrorism to his coworkers, claiming family connections to Al Qaeda and membership in Hezbollah.
“He said he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself,” Comey explained.
The FBI opened an investigation to determine whether Mateen was a terrorist. After 10 months, they closed the preliminary investigation. Mateen’s name came up again two months later, in July of 2014, after the FBI discovered that the Florida man who had blown himself up for the Nusra Front in Syria knew the Orlando shooter.
However, after the FBI determined that the killer had no real ties with the suicide bomber, Mateen no longer becamea significant focus of the investigation. Comey believes the FBI did everything they could in the investigation and will continue to leave no stone unturned as they work with their state, local, and federal partners to uncover the killer’s motives.
In his remarks on the Orlando attack, President Obama said the investigation into the mass shooting in Orlando is still open and they have reached “no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer.”
“The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism,” President Obama stated. “And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what — if any — inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups.”
Shortly following the attack, however, the ISIS news agency A’maq announced that Mateen was a member of the organization, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
MEMRI also explained that following the Orlando shooting, ISIS supporters began posting messages, banners, and images on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, praising the deadly shooting and calling for more attacks.
These posts included threats against the White House, Washington DC, and California. Disturbingly, some supporters said that another attack on the United States was imminent.
The Telegram channel Dabiq Al-Khilafa posted a banner featuring a quote from Abu Muhammad Al Adnani’s recorded statement from late May, which encouraged Muslims to kill infidels in the West.
In addition, several users praised the shooting simply by posting the message “Allah Akbar” over and over again, while others circulated an image with the caption “Orlando is burning.”
Prominent ISIS supporter, Turjeman Al-Asawerti, posted messages on his Telegram channel praising the attack and eulogizing shooter Omar Mateen, saying, “Lord of the world, have mercy on the soul of your follower Omar, and make paradise his resting place. He brought smiles to the faces of the mujahideen and the orphans smile, and made the Crusaders and apostates cry.”
Other comments specifically threatened the LGBT community, and criticized those in the Muslim world who expressed solidarity with it. One pro-ISIS Telegram user, Juhaiman, commended Mateen for exposing Muslims who identify as homosexuals.
He said, “Omar Mateen, may Allah have mercy on his soul, managed to expertly and accurately expose the large amount of those who behave as women in our Islamic world in general, and the Arab world in particular. The truth about some people has been exposed. Thus, we have discovered how many people show solidarity with these homosexuals in broad daylight!!!”
The Orlando shooting is certainly not the first instance ISIS has targeted the homosexual community. MEMRI released a report in March 2015 revealing that ISIS has publicly executed men they convicted of homosexuality in Iraq and Syria, including by burning them alive and by stoning them to death.
The most common method of execution, however, has been throwing them off tall buildings. Survivors are usually shot or stoned, sometimes by bystanders. The February 2015 issue of ISIS’s English-language magazine Dabiq, in an article titled “Clamping Down on Sexual Deviance,” praised this punishment for homosexuals.
The deadly shooting in Orlando serves as a sobering reminder that radical Islamists remain fixed on targeting our nation and disrupting the way of life of all of us.
“But Americans will not be intimidated by these fanatics,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security commented. “Instead, tragedies like we saw in Orlando only strengthen our resolve to fight back against terror and prevail over extremism wherever it emerges.”
This week, the House will vote on The Countering Terrorist Radicalization Act, which is comprised of three previously passed House bills to be sent to the Senate. McCaul and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) issued a statement explaining that it is critical that the US act swiftly to counter the growing threat ISIS poses to the homeland.
The lawmakers also plan to consider additional bills in the wake of the attack in Orlando.
“Our nation rallies behind Orlando and the families of the victims in the wake of this terrorist attack,” said McCaul and McCarthy in a statement. “As we mourn and pray, we must also respond to the threat ISIS poses to our homeland. We must secure our nation from terrorism and prevent radicalization here at home so the American people can be safe and live without fear.”