WASHINGTON – The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday agents were “highly confident” that Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was “radicalized,” at least in part through information he found online.
James Comey said it was still not clear if Mateen was part of an established extremist network or which group may have inspired him, but he told reporters: “We’ll leave no stones unturned and we’ll work all day and all night to understand the path to that terrible night.”
Forty-nine people were killed and 53 others wounded in the shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the early hours of Sunday.
Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group during the attack, was killed in a shootout with police.
“We are working to understand what role anti-gay bigotry may have played in motivating this attack,” Comey said. “But we are highly confident that this killer was radicalized and at least in some part through the Internet.”
“We’re also going to look hard at our own work to see whether there is something we should have done differently,” Comey said.
“So far, the honest answer is, I don’t think so.”
Earlier probes came up empty
The FBI said Sunday it previously investigated — and cleared — Mateen for suspected ties to an American suicide bomber and after he made inflammatory terror-related comments to coworkers.
Comey revealed further details, saying agents first became aware of Mateen, an American of Afghan descent, in May 2013 after he was flagged for making inflammatory comments while working as a contract security guard at a local courthouse.
“First, he claimed family connections to Al-Qaeda. He also said that he was a member of Hezbollah, which is a Shiite terrorist organization that is a bitter enemy of the so-called Islamic State, ISIL,” Comey said.
“He said he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself.”
As a result, the FBI’s Miami office opened a preliminary investigation, which included introducing sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing his communication records, and searching government files.
“We attempted to determine whether he was possibly a terrorist,” Comey said.
Mateen was interviewed twice, and told agents he made the incendiary comments in anger because he thought his co-workers were teasing him as a Muslim.
After 10 months, the preliminary investigation was closed.
Two months later, in July 2014, the killer’s name surfaced again when the FBI’s Miami office was investigating a Florida man who had blown himself up for the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.
“The killer knew him casually from attending the same mosque in that area of Florida. But our investigation turned up no ties of any consequence between the two of them,” the FBI chief said.
Three 911 calls during attack
Comey also revealed that Mateen made three successive calls to 911 as the Orlando attack unfolded, at about 2:30 in the morning Sunday.
“He said he was doing this for the leader of ISIL, who he named and pledged loyalty to,” Comey said.
But Mateen also appeared to claim solidarity with the perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, who Comey noted had no connections to IS.
And he pledged solidarity with the Florida bomber for Al-Nusra, a group in conflict with the Islamic State group.