US club shooter called 911 ‘swore allegiance to ISIS’
The shooter was identified as Omar S Mateen, a man whose father said had a hatred of gays
A gunman killed 50 people and injured 53 in a massacre at a gay nightclub in the tourist hub of Orlando, Florida, early on Sunday, the city’s mayor and police said, in an attack US authorities are described as a “terrorism incident.”
There were comflicting reports as to the motivation behind the attack. The shooter identified as Omar S Mateen, was said by a senior FBI official to might have had leanings towards ISIS militants, a claim carried by NBC News that reported that he called 911 and swore allegiance to ISIS before carrying out the massacre.
But ISIS has later claimed responsibility for the shooting.
"The armed attack that targeted a gay night club in the city of Orlando in the American state of Florida which left over 100 people dead or injured was carried out by an Islamic State fighter," ISIS' Amaq news agency said.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said they had yet to uncover any contacts between the suspected gunman and any extremist group.
“We have cleared the building, and it is with great sadness that I share we have not 20 but 50 casualties in addition to the shooter,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told a news briefing, raising the death toll from 20 previously. “There are another 53 that are hospitalized.”
Police Chief John Mina also said the shooter had some sort of “suspicious device.” He said the suspect exchanged gunfire with an officer working at the club around 2am, then went back inside and took hostages.
But speaking later on Sunday the father of the suspected gunman said he believed his son was motivated by hatred of gays - not by his Muslim religion.
“This had nothing to do with religion,” Mir Seddique told NBC News. He said his son, Omar Mateen, recently lashed out in his presence after witnessing a gay couple embracing in downtown Miami, and suggested the incident may have triggered the atrocity.
“He saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Seddique told the network.
At around 5am, authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the hostages, and the suspect then died in a gunfight with those officers.
FBI spokesman Danny Banks initially said during a news conference that the mass shooting was being investigated as an act of terrorism. He said authorities were looking into whether this was an act of domestic or international terror, and if the shooter was a lone wolf. The local sheriff later announced that the shooting could be treated as a domestic terrorism incident.
Police had said previously on Twitter that there was a “controlled explosion” at the scene of the shooting at Pulse Orlando. Mina said that noise was caused by a device intended to distract the shooter.
Mina Justice was outside the club early Sunday trying to contact her 30-year-old son Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a bathroom with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.”
“The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,’” she said. “That was the last conversation.”
Dozens of police vehicles, including a SWAT team, swarmed the area around the club. At least two police pickup trucks were seen taking what appeared to be shooting victims to the Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Pulse Orlando posted on its own Facebook page around 2am: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Just before 6am, the club posted an update: “As soon as we have any information we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”
Police said local, state and federal agencies were investigating. The incident follows the fatal shooting late Friday of 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie, who was killed after her concert in Orlando by a 27-year-old Florida man who later killed himself. Grimmie was a YouTube sensation and former contestant on “The Voice.”
Jon Alamo said he was at the back of one of the club’s rooms when a man holding a weapon came into the front of the room.
“I heard 20, 40, 50 shots,” Alamo said. “The music stopped.”
Club-goer Rob Rick said it happened around, 2am, just before closing time. “Everybody was drinking their last sip,” he said.
He estimated more than 100 people were still inside when he heard shots, got on the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed. People inside were able to then escape through the back of the club.
Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge when he started hearing gunshots. He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged, where police were telling people to back away from the club. He saw injured people being tended to across the street.
“I was thinking, are you kidding me? So I just dropped down. I just said please, please, please, I want to make it out,” he said. “And when I did, I saw people shot. I saw blood. You hope and pray you don’t get shot.”
(With AFP, AP and Reuters)