ORLANDO, FLA: Orlando nightclub killer Omar Mateen had expressed sympathy for a variety of Islamist extremists, including groups in the Middle East that are sworn enemies, the FBI said on Monday, as a picture began to emerge of the angry, violent man who carried out America’s deadliest mass shooting.
U.S. authorities said they had found no direct links between Islamic State and Mateen, the U.S.-born son of Afghan immigrants who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday.
Mateen, 29, was shot dead by police who stormed the Pulse club with armored cars after a three-hour siege. In 911 calls during his rampage, the killer expressed allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
But Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said Mateen had made comments favorable to multiple armed Islamist movements and people, which “adds a little bit to the confusion about his motives.” President Barack Obama said Mateen was likely a homegrown extremist.
“So far, we see no indication that this was a plot directed from outside the United States and we see no indication that he was part of any kind of network,” Comey told reporters in Washington. “We’re highly confident this killer was radicalized at least in some part through the Internet.”
Islamic State, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria, reiterated on Monday a claim of responsibility, although it offered no signs to indicate coordination with the gunman.
In calls to authorities on Sunday, Mateen also mentioned support for the Boston Marathon bombers and a Florida man who became a Nusra Front suicide bomber in Syria, Comey said. Nusra is an al Qaeda offshoot which is at odds with Islamic State in Syria’s civil war.
Co-workers reported Mateen to the FBI in 2013 after he had made “inflammatory and contradictory” statements, including a claim that he had family connections to al Qaeda and membership of Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, a bitter rival.
The FBI’s Miami office investigated Mateen for 10 months and interviewed him twice but found no evidence of a crime or connection with a militant group. Comey said the FBI was also “working to understand what role anti-gay bigotry may have played” in the attack.
The massacre reverberated on the presidential campaign trail, where Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the two likely opponents in the November 8 election, clashed over how to confront violent Islamist extremists.
Trump proposed suspending immigration to the United States from countries with a history of terrorism against America, Europe or U.S. allies, while Clinton warned against demonizing Muslims and called for tougher gun safety measures.
Obama is to visit Orlando on Thursday to pay respects to families of the victims.
The Orlando killings followed the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, last year and raised the question of whether the United States will have to confront jihadist attacks in the homeland for years to come.
Comey said tracking apparent lone wolf attackers like Mateen was like finding “needles in a nationwide haystack” while also trying to work out what kind of people could become radicalized.
The Florida shooting spree began early on Sunday when the club was packed with some 350 revelers at a Latin music night. Many fled as the gunman raked the crowd with bullets from an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and a pistol.
An initial wave of officers charged into the club and trapped Mateen in a bathroom, Orlando Police Chief John Mina told reporters. That allowed many patrons to flee, although others were trapped in the restroom with Mateen, leading to a standoff.
Police negotiated with Mateen for about three hours before breaking a hole in the wall, which allowed hostages to escape.
Mateen also emerged from the hole and was shot dead by officers, police said.
Some 53 people were wounded and 29 remain hospitalized at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Michael Cheatham, chief trauma surgeon at the hospital, told Fox News he expects all of the survivors in the hospital to survive.