The Islamic State terror group claimed the gunman who killed 50 people at an Orlando nightclub Sunday was “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America,” in a radio broadcast Monday.
Mateen, 29 and from Port St. Lucie, Florida, killed 50 people and wounded dozens more when he opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida early Sunday morning, the deadliest shooting attack in US history. He died in a shootout with SWAT police after a several-hour standoff, and police have been probing a possible link between Mateen and the Islamic State group.
“God allowed Omar Mateen, one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America, to carry out an attack entering a crusader gathering in a night club… in Orlando in Florida, killing and wounding more than 100 of them,” a bulletin from Al-Bayan radio said.
The IS-linked news agency Amaq said Sunday without providing evidence that one of its fighters carried out the attack, and an FBI source said Mateen had called the agency before carrying out the attack claiming he was a follower of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
US officials were already investigating possible links of Mateen to radical Islamism, including suspicions he may have been an Islamic State operative.
While officials admitted that Mateen had previously been probed for a connection to a suicide bomber — with the link ruled “minimal” — the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said law enforcement was looking back to see if it had any more information on Mateen.
Rep. Adam Schiff said in a statement that the American intelligence community was “combing through its holdings, checking what we have on the shooter, and coordinating with local law enforcement in the investigation.”
Schiff said similarity between last year’s terror attack on the Bataclan Theater in Paris and the shooter’s targeting of the LGBT community during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan “indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism.”
“Whether this attack was also ISIS-directed remains to be determined,” Schiff said.
In the aftermath of the shooting, the FBI announced that Mateen had been twice investigated for possible extremist Islamic views, but was never prosecuted.
He first came to the attention of investigators in 2013 after making inflammatory comments to co-workers indicating possible terrorist ties. The following year, the agency investigated Mateen’s possible contact with Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a fellow Floridian and the first US citizen to carry out a suicide bombing in Syria.
“The FBI thoroughly investigated the matter, including interviews with witnesses, physical surveillance and records checks,” Special Agent Ronald Hopper told reporters Sunday. “Ultimately we were unable to verify the substance of his comments and the investigation was closed.”
“We determined the contact was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or a threat at that time,” he said.
Asked if the gunman had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, Hopper said authorities had “suggestions that individual has leanings towards that.”
Mateen’s family was from Afghanistan, and he was born in New York. His family later moved to Florida, authorities said.
His ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters that her former husband was bipolar and “mentally unstable.”
Mateen was short-tempered and had a history with steroids, she said in remarks televised from Boulder, Colorado. He wanted to be a police officer and applied to a police academy, but she had no details.
“After a few months he started abusing me physically … not allowing me to speak to my family, keeping me hostage from them,” Sitora Yusufiy said.
Yusufiy, who met Mateen online and married him in 2009, said he was a practicing Muslim but showed no signs of radicalization.
She noted that Mateen was “mentally unstable and mentally ill” and had a history of steroid use.
The couple was together for only four months, and the two had no contact for the last seven or eight years, she said.
Mateen purchased at least two firearms legally within the last week or so, according to Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Mateen was a security guard with a company called G4S. In a 2012 newsletter, the firm identified him as working in West Palm Beach. In a statement sent Sunday to the Palm Beach Post, the company confirmed that he had been an employee since September 2007. State records show that Mateen had held a firearms license since at least 2011.
A law enforcement official said the gunman made a 911 call from the club in which he professed allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The official was familiar with the investigation, but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
But relatives interviewed by US media on Sunday said Mateen, who had a wife and young son, was not especially religious.
They did, however, describe a man who had anti-gay views.
His father Mir Seddique told NBC News his son may have been motivated by homophobia, insisting: “This had nothing to do with religion.”
He said his son had seen two men kissing while in south Florida a couple of months ago.
“We were in downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music,” the shocked father told NBC News in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. “And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Seddique said.
“We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident,” Seddique said. “We are in shock like the whole country.”
US President Barack Obama called the shooting an “act of terror” and an “act of hate” targeting a place of “solidarity and empowerment” for gays and lesbians. He urged Americans to decide whether this is the kind of “country we want to be.”
Authorities said they had secured a van owned by the suspect outside the club. Meanwhile, a SWAT truck and a bomb-disposal unit were on the scene of an address associated with Mateen in Fort Pierce, about 120 miles southeast of Orlando.
Across the country, police departments stepped up patrols in neighborhoods frequented by the LGBT community.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.