The long-awaited release of the emergency 9-1-1 call of the Orlando shooter— Omar Mateen—as well as the shooter’s three calls with hostage negotiators has shed further light into Mateen’s possible motives in targeting the gay nightclub, Pulse, while committing the largest terror attack on US soil since September 11, 2001.
While the FBI maintains that there appears to be no evidence indicating that Mateen operated directly under a foreign terrorist organization, he did clearly articulate his allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) during the 9-1-1 emergency call.
“I wanna let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings… My name is I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State,” Mateen stated during the call.
According to an FBI summary of three crisis negotiation calls, which lasted 28 minutes in total, Mateen identified himself as an Islamic soldier, and expressed his desire for the United States to stop bombing the Islamic State.
In addition, Mateen claimed that he would initiate a car bomb if negotiators were to “try anything stupid.” Mateen claimed that he had a suicide bomb vest, just as other terrorists have used in the past, such as the November 2015 Paris attackers. Surviving victims of the Pulse attack said that Mateen had threatened to put four suicide bomb vests on his hostages.
The FBI has also reported that they have found no evidence that Mateen was gay, undermining notions—at this point—that the attack was spurred by conflicting feelings over his sexuality. FBI investigations of Mateen prior to the Orlando incident arose due to concerns over Mateen’s references and affinity towards violent jihadism.
At this point, then, Mateen appears to have carried out the attack due to his embrace of violent jihad with an IS-nexus, coupled with anti-LGTB sentiments.
Rather than an anomaly, Mateen is one of some ninety US-based individuals who have been charged in relation to IS-linked terrorist activity, including planned attacks on US soil or intentions to travel to Syria and join the so-called caliphate. The defendants include lone wolves and several collaborators, directed—in one fashion or another— by the IS.
Some of those charged have been radicalized over a long period of time, while others much less so. The perpetrators include men and women, mostly US born or naturalized US-citizens, from over twenty states. They come from diverse backgrounds, including some college educated, former convicts, married, single, current/former military, and converts who were subsequently radicalized. There is no single profile or attribute that transcends these individuals other than being enamored with violent jihadism.
Among several of the six operatives charged or adjudicated the same month as the Orlando attacker are:
- Ardit Feri, 20, a Kosovan captured in Malaysia, pleaded guilty in Virginia to providing material support to ISIL and hacking into a computer toobtain information. Feri stole the personal information of over 1,000 US servicemen and federal employees, and gave it to an ISIL representative so that the group could encourage lone wolf attacks against them.
- Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, was charged in Virginia with providing and conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL. Khweis was captured in northern Iraq by Kurdish forces while claiming to have escaped from ISIL territory. Khweis said the he informed ISIL of his willingness to be a suicide bomber, and received a month-long religious training by the group.
- Three Minnesota men of Somali-descent, Guled Ali Omar, 20, Abdurahman Yasin Daud, 21, and Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 19, were convicted of conspiracy to murder in Syria on behalf of ISIL, among other charges. Between April 2014 and May 2015, the men, plus co-conspirators, made multiple attempts to join ISIL, including traveling to Syria
Other particularly serious IS-aligned plots prosecuted this year were:
- Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz, 19, from Pennsylvania, was charged in a superseding indictment with soliciting a violent crime and communicating a threat to injure people. In December 2015, he was charged with conspiracy and attempting to provide material support to ISIL. Between May 2014-December 2015, Aziz conspired and aided ISIL, and called for others to attack US government employees.
- Kansas-based John T. Booker Jr., 21, pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted destruction of government property by fire or explosion. In April 2015, he was arrested while driving onto Ft. Riley, with the intention of detonating a car bomb.
Like Mateen, the ninety-plus IS-directed, connected, or inspired operatives prosecuted in the United States are demonstrative of a complex and evolving terror threat that must be characterized as such, rather than a one-off incident by a confused and troubled man.
A holistic approach to combating this menace must encompass sustained military efforts, intelligence, law enforcement efforts here and abroad, and significant contributions by businesses, non-profits, non-governmental organizations, and the public.
More specifically, law enforcement can continue to use informants and undercover agents to ferret out prospective IS-supports. Additionally, they must leverage the nationwide suspicious activities report framework to share insight about pre-incident terrorist indicators, among other trigger signs. Police should also more readily integrate other traditional activities, such as traffic stops and calls for service, to assess whether an individual may have a nexus with terrorism.
Moreover, by improving relations with communities susceptible to violent extremism, the frequency and severity of such radicalism will likely decline. Non-governmental organizations and non-profits can accelerate their efforts at combating violent extremism within population sets by providing educational, recreational, and civic programs that will provide vulnerable youth and others with alternative paths.
The business community can expand its aid to police by offering tailored product and service solutions, harden their own assets against physical and cyber threats, as well as share information, such as tips about suspicious personnel or employees, and provide assistance in case of terrorist attack.
Dean Alexander is professor/director of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University. He co-authored The Islamic State: Combating the Caliphate Without Borders (Lexington Books, 2015).