US President Barack Obama said Monday there was no evidence that the massacre of 49 people in a Florida gay nightclub was directed from abroad or was part of a larger terrorist plot.
After being briefed on America’s most deadly mass shooting in modern times by top security aides, Obama said “we don’t yet know” the shooter’s motivations.
Obama said 29-year-old Omar Mateen did appear to have been “inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet.”
But, he added, “At this stage we see no clear evidence that he was directed externally.
“It does appear that at the last minute he announced allegiance to ISIL, but there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by them,” he said, using an acronym for the radical Islamic State group. “There’s also no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot.”
In the early hours of Sunday, Mateen, a New York native and son of Afghan immigrants, burst into the Pulse nightclub and opened fire. Beyond the dead, more than 50 people were wounded in the carnage.
The situation evolved into a hostage situation before he was killed in a shootout with police.
IS earlier claimed responsibility for the massacre, saying in a radio bulletin that it was carried out by “one of the soldiers of the caliphate.”
Inside the United States the political repercussions of the shooting have been swift, with liberals and conservatives clamoring to use it to justify either tougher gun control or tougher counter-terrorism measures.
Amid the bickering, Obama — who has come under fire from Republicans for not adopting the term “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe the attack — urged unity.
“We’re also looking at all the motivations of the killer, but it’s a reminder that regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans,” he said. “We need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.”
He said the probe was being treated as a terror investigation and that investigators were examining materials from the internet that the shooter may have consumed.
Obama said investigators are still looking into the motivations of the shooter and considering all possibilities. He said organizations like IS, al-Qaeda and others target gays and lesbians because of their “vicious, bankrupt ideology” and their religious beliefs about homosexuality.
“The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community I think is also relevant,” Obama said.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee earlier 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.
US law enforcement authorities on Monday lowered the death toll from the weekend massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, to 49, the deadliest mass shooting in American history, explaining that the shooter had been counted in the original tally.
“We don’t include the shooter as a victim,” FBI special agent Paul Wysopal told an early morning press conference, revising the toll.