Washington: A heavily-armed homophobic Islamic extremist stormed into a gay nightclub in Florida in the wee hours of Sunday and shot dead more than 50 people in the biggest terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11.
The gunman, who was killed by a swat team after some two hours of carnage, was later identified as Omar Mir Seddique Mateen , 29, a New York-born American citizen from Port St. Lucie, Florida. Mateen’s parents emigrated from Afghanistan.
His father, Mir Seddique told NBC news that his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami several months ago. ”This has nothing to do with religion,” he said. ”We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident. We weren’t aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country.”
But authorities said Mateen had also pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 phone call he made before the attack and the assault appeared to be ISIS-inspired. He was on the radar of authorities and had been investigated twice.
His ex-wife spoke of a difficult marriage in which he was abusive and violent, and suggested he may have been mentally unstable. His job as a guard at a juvenile delinquent facility may have given him access to the heavy assault weapons he carried.
President Obama said authorities had not reached a definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. ”The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism, and I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what, if any, inspiration this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred,” he said in a statement.
He also tempered some of the virulence that was coming as a reaction to the incident, saying, ”In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”
Pulse, the nightclub that Mateen attacked, advertises itself as one of the largest gay clubs in Orlando, which is home to Disneyworld and calls itself the ”City Beautiful.”
Celebrating a ”Latin Night,” Pulse was packed to the rafters with more than 300 people when Mateen stormed in after a shootout with a police officer outside. Initial reports said he took hostages and held off the police for at least two hours before they conducted a ”controlled explosion” to enter the nightclub to neutralize him.
”At … 0500 hours this morning, the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there. Our officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect. The suspect is dead,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina told a press conference. ”It appears he was organized and well-prepared…with an assault-type weapon, a handgun and some type of (other) device on him,” he added.
Authorities initially put the fatalities at around 20 before Mayor Buddy Dyer said it could be as high as 50, making it the biggest terrorist attack on U.S homeland after 9/11, and indeed the worst mass shooting in US history. It could have far reaching fallout on a range of issues from gun control to immigration to even the Presidential elections.
The fatalities and casualties had not even been counted and identified when politics too burst into the incident with fervid exchanges on the background and motive of the killer.
The initial reactions from the Presidential candidates were restrained: ”Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act. -H.” Hillary Clinton tweeted. Donald Trump was a little ahead of curve on the terrorism angle, tweeting, ”Really bad shooting in Orlando. Police investigating possible terrorism. Many people dead and wounded.”
But after it emerged that the killer was a Muslim, based on the name authorities announced, and some reports said he was a registered Democrat, the politics kicked in.
”Obviously a Baptist Republican with an NRA membership and concealed carry permit,” read one snarky social media message from an ostensibly gun-loving conservative who had been chafing at the prospect of the shooter being identified as a white, native-born American.
On the flip side, liberals had taunted in the initial moments of the incident about how the shooter would be dubbed a ”psychopath” if he was a white Christian and a ”terrorist” if he were a brown Muslim.
The Pulse massacre occurred just one day after a singer, Christina Grimmie of The Voice contest, was shot and killed after a concert Friday night at the Plaza Live Theater in Orlando. That gunman, identified as Kevin James Loibl, 27, of St. Petersburg, Florida, fatally shot himself after the attack. The two attacks no not appear to be related.