Islamic State claims responsibility for Florida mass shooting

The shooting left at least 50 people dead in a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on 12 June, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - The Islamic state militant group has claimed responsibility for a shooting in the US that left at least 50 people dead in a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

In a statement, the group's news agency Amaq says the attack on Saturday night was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.

At least 53 other people were wounded in what is now known as the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

President Barack Obama has made another call for new gun laws.

Obama says the incident was a reminder of how easy it is for someone to get a hold of a weapon that could kill people.

"This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or in a house of worship or a movie theater or in a night club. And we've to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be."

Obama has called the shooting an act of terror, saying it's a reminder of how easy it is for someone to get hold of a weapon that could kill people.


Police killed the gunman, who was identified as Omar Mateen, 29, a New York-born Florida resident and US citizen who was the son of immigrants from Afghanistan and had twice been questioned by FBI agents in recent years, authorities said.

Obama said the FBI will lead the investigation to find out why Mateen carried the attack.

"What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days we'll uncover why and how this happened and we'll go wherever the facts lead us."

Mateen's former wife described him as emotionally and mentally disturbed with a violent temper, yet who aspired to be a police officer. He also worked as an armed guard for the security firm G4S, the world's largest, according to the company.

Law enforcement officials were probing evidence suggesting the attack was inspired by Islamic State militants, although they said there was no proof that Mateen had worked directly with the group.

As the shooting rampage was unfolding, Mateen "made calls to 911 this morning in which he stated his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State," said Ronald Hopper, the FBI's assistant special agent in charge on the case.

Shots rang out at the crowded Pulse nightclub in the heart of Orlando, one of the most popular US tourist destinations, as some 350 patrons were attending a Latin music event in conjunction with gay pride week celebrations.


The shooting was nearly certain to reignite emotional debates over American gun laws and homeland security in what is shaping up to be a vitriolic US presidential campaign between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

The attack came six months after a married couple in California - a US-born son of Pakistani immigrants and a Pakistani-born woman he married in Saudi Arabia, fatally shot 14 people in San Bernardino in an attack inspired by Islamic State. That couple died in a shootout with police hours after their assault on a holiday party attended by the husband's co-workers.

The precise sequence of events in Orlando remained murky. But authorities said the gunman burst into the club and opened fire at about 2 a.m., then took dozens of hostages that he held at gunpoint inside a bathroom during a three-hour siege that ended when police stormed the building using armoured cars and killed the gunman.

Officials in Orlando, a city of 270,000 people, were visibly shocked at the high death toll.

"We're dealing with something that we never imagined and is unimaginable," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. He said 39 people died inside the club, two outside, and nine others died after being rushed to the hospital.

Mateen had twice been interviewed by FBI agents, in 2013 and 2014, after making comments to co-workers indicating he supported militant groups, but neither interview led to evidence of criminal activity, the FBI's Hopper said.

Hopper said Mateen was questioned in 2014 about his contacts with Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a US citizen who also had lived in Florida and became a suicide bomber in Syria that year.


Sunday night, federal agents combed through Mateen's apartment in the Atlantic coast town of Fort Pierce, about 120 miles southeast of Orlando, searching for clues, as numerous evidence vans sat parked outside.

"The FBI is currently in the apartment. They'll probably be there through the night," said St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara.

Near Boulder, Colorado, Mateen's former wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters he worked for a time as a correctional officer at a juvenile detention centre in Fort Pierce, and had once sought admission to a police academy.

She said she had been beaten by Mateen during outbursts of temper in which he would "express hatred towards everything." Eventually, she was "rescued" from Mateen by members of her family who intervened four months into a stormy marriage that ultimately ended in divorce, she said.

"I know he had a history of steroids," Yusufiy told reporters outside a home where she was staying with a man she identified as her current fiance. She also described Mateen as "emotionally unstable," "mentally ill" and bipolar.

Deborah Sherman, an FBI spokeswoman in Denver, confirmed that federal agents had interviewed Yusufiy in Colorado.

The imam of the Florida mosque where Mateen attended prayers for nearly 10 years described him as a soft-spoken man who would visit regularly but rarely interact with others in the congregation.


Within hours of the shooting, the presumptive presidential nominees of both major political parties weighed in with statements on the tragedy.

Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, said he was "right on radical Islamic terrorism" and called on Obama to resign because he did not say the words "radical Islam" in his statement responding to the shooting.

Clinton echoed Obama's comments calling the attack both an act of terror and a hate crime, adding that the massacre "reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets."

If confirmed as an act of terrorism, it would be the deadliest such attack on US soil since 11 September, 2001, when al-Qaeda-trained hijackers crashed jetliners into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing some 3,000 people.

The choice of target was especially heart-wrenching for members of the US lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida.

"Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety," the group said in a statement. "We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger."

In an apparently unrelated incident on Sunday, a heavily armed man from Indiana who said he was headed to a Los Angeles-area gay pride festival was arrested in nearby Santa Monica, California, where police found guns and chemicals to make explosives in his car.

Additional information by Reuters