Deadliest mass shooting in US history
A disturbing picture is emerging of the gunman who opened fire on a gay nightclub in Florida, killing 50 and injuring 53 others in the worst mass shooting in US history.
He was said to be quiet and had few friends and had been interviewed by US authorities in recent years for suspected sympathies with Muslim extremists.
He came to the attention of federal authorities twice prior to being identified as the gunman in the Orlando nightclub mass shooting, said Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Division.
“The FBI first became aware of him in 2013 when he made inflammatory comments to co-workers alleging possible terrorist ties,” but could not find any incriminating evidence, Mr Hopper said.
In 2014, the bureau investigated him again, for possible ties to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who grew up in Florida but went to Syria to fight for an extremist group and detonated a suicide bomb. Mr Hopper said the bureau concluded that the contact between the two men was minimal, and that Mateen “did not constitute a substantive threat at that time”.
Mateen was born to Afghan parents in New York in 1986 and was living in Port St Lucie, Florida, police said.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN that Mateen “made a pledge of allegiance to ISIS”.
Mr Schiff said the timing and target of the attack can’t be a coincidence.
“The fact that this shooting took place during Ramadan and that ISIS leadership in Raqqa has been urging attacks during this time, that the target was an LGBT nightclub during (LGBT) Pride (month) and, if accurate, that according to local law enforcement the shooter declared his allegiance to ISIS, indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism,” Mr Schiff said.
Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique, told NBC “this has nothing to do with religion”.
Mr Seddique said his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a few months ago. He believes that incident may be related to Sunday’s shooting.
“We are saying, we are apologising for the whole incident. We weren’t aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country.”
Mr Seddique also told NBC that Mateen worked a security job at Indian River State College, which he also attended.
The imam of the Florida mosque that Mateen attended for nearly 10 years described him as a soft-spoken man who would visit regularly but rarely interact with the congregation.
“He hardly had any friends,” Syed Shafeeq Rahman, who heads the Islamic Centre of Fort Pierce, told Reuters.
“He would come with his little son at night to pray and after he would leave.”
Rahman said Mateen never approached him regarding any concerns about homosexuals.
Rahman said he himself had been increasingly speaking out against violence, noting that even inflicting a scratch on someone was against the tenets of Islam.
The tragedy had left the local Muslim community fearful, he said.
“We thought we could relax for a couple of years and tell people we are normal human beings,” Rahman said.
A classmate from his Florida high school described him as a typical teenager who played football for a Martin County team in Stuart, a small city about a 20-minute drive from Fort Pierce.
Samuel King said he often spoke with Mateen after he graduated high school.
Mr King worked at Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant in the Treasure Coast Mall, where Mateen worked at GNC, the nutrition store, he said. Mr King, who is openly gay, said the Mateen he knew until 2009 did not appear to be anti-gay.
Mr King described Mateen as gregarious and talkative in the immediate years after high school, but said “something must have changed” since he last saw him in 2009.