ORLANDO, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — FBI Director James Comey said the gunman in the Orlando nightclub attack that killed 49 people had “strong indications of radicalization” and was likely inspired by foreign terrorist organizations.
Dozens were also injured in the early Sunday morning attack in what is now the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Gunman Omar Mateen, 29, died in a gun battle with police.
As CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported, federal investigators were back at the scene Monday, combing the street for evidence, and at Mateen’s condo, where they sealed off his car as evidence.
Late Monday, a U.S. official with knowledge of the situation told CBS News that clubgoers had told investigators Mateen had been seen repeatedly at the Pulse Club previously, weeks and even months before the attack. The FBI is in the process of interviewing people who are volunteering information or who were injured in the club, the official said.
Comey told reporters Monday that investigators are still trying to figure out the exact motive behind the shooting.
“We’re working hard to understand the killer and his motives and his sources of inspiration,” Comey said. “But we are highly confident that this killer was radicalized and at least, in some part, through the Internet.”
Comey said the killer self-radicalized on the Internet, and while he pledged allegiance to ISIS, he was not part of any terror network. He said the attack was not directed from overseas.
“We’re working to understand what role anti-gay bigotry may have played in motivating this attack,” Comey said.
Comey said Mateen spoke with a 911 operator three times early Sunday morning and also pledged loyalty to the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on his last call.
But in the 911 calls, Comey said Mateen also claimed solidarity with the Boston Marathon bombers and with another Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria.
“The bombers at the Boston Marathon and the suicide bomber from Florida were not inspired by ISIL, which adds a little bit to the confusion about his motives,” he said.
As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, Mateen first came to the FBI’s attention in May 2013 while working as a contract security guard at a local courthouse. Co-workers said he had made inflammatory and contradictory remarks about having terrorist ties.
“First, he claimed family connections to al Qaeda. He also said that he was a member of Hezbollah, which is a Shia terrorist organization that is a bitter enemy of the so-called Islamic State; ISIL,” Comey said.
For the next 10 months, the FBI looked into whether Mateen was a terrorist and interviewed him twice.
“He admitted making the statements that his co-workers reported, but explained that he did it in anger because he thought his co-workers were discriminating against him and teasing him because he was Muslim,” Comey said.
The investigation was then closed and Mateen was off the watchlist.
Two months later in July 2014, Mateen’s name surfaced again, since he attended the same mosque as Moner Abu-Salha – the first known American suicide bomber in Syria.
Mateen was interviewed by the FBI again.
The purpose was “to find out whether he had any significant contacts with the suicide bomber for Al-Nusra, determined that he did not, and the inquiry continued — focusing on the suicide bomber,” Comey said.
Comey said investigators also introduced Mateen to confidential sources, followed him and reviewed details of some of his communications.
Despite all that, Mateen was not on any list that prevented him from buying a weapon. Sources said he legally purchased his handgun and AR-15-style rifle from the St. Lucie Shooting Center in Port St. Lucie days before the attack.
The owner of the gun shop is Eddie Hensen, a retired NYPD detective. Henson said Mateen did not buy the handgun and the long gun at the same time as he purchased them about a week apart.
“I’m sorry he picked my place,” Hensen said. “I wish he picked no place.”
Comey said the FBI is also reviewing its procedures to see if their prior contact with Mateen was properly handled.
“Our work is very challenging,” he said. “We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack but we are also called upon to figure out which pieces of hay might someday become needles. That is hard work. If we can find a way to do that better, we will.”
The source said the website was operated by Abu Taubah, also known as Marcos Robertson, who apparently openly preached against the gay community.
The source confirmed that Mateen searched the Pulse nightclub online.
Mateen’s father, Siddique Mateen, has posted long, rambling videos online regarding Afghan politics. He told CBS News he visited his son the day before the shootings, and saw no sign he was preparing an attack.
U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley said officials have been collecting electronic and physical evidence as part of the ongoing investigation.
“We don’t know if anyone else will be charged,” he said, adding that officials don’t believe there is a threat of imminent danger to the public. “If anyone else was involved in this crime, they will be prosecuted.”
New Details Released About Horrific Chain Of Events
Meanwhile, officials revealed new details Monday about what happened inside the club.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said an extra officer was working at the club in full uniform and engaged with the shooter near an entrance. Additional officers entered and engaged the suspect in another gun battle before the shooter retreated to the bathroom.
“At that time, we were able to save and rescue dozens and dozens of people and get them out of the club,” he said. “As soon as it kind of stabilized and the suspect had barricaded himself inside the bathroom, our negotiators were talking with him and there were no shots at that time.”
Officers then secured everything and the SWAT team was brought in. Mina said officers then set up for an explosive breach on the bathroom wall. Mina said he made the decision to breach the wall, which created a hole through which dozens of clubgoers were rescued. Then the suspect exited through the same hole and engaged in another gun battle with officers. Mateen was then killed.
On Monday, the Islamic State’s radio hailed the attack, calling Mateen “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America.”
The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms said Mateen legally bought the guns used in Sunday’s massacre.
“He did purchase two firearms, a handgun, and a long gun within the last two days,” said ATF Special Agent Travor Velinor.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for Orange County.
“To take that number of lives is clearly an act of terror,” Scott said.
Orlandoans Rally In Grief, Solidarity
Meanwhile Monday, Orlando residents and especially the families of those who were killed were only beginning to deal with the grief.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, people gathered for a vigil in downtown Orlando late Monday. They had a message similar to that heard at rallies across the globe, but they also carried a pain specific to the event – intimate, but very real.
Nico Roman came to stand with his city hours after learning that the second of two friends had died at the Pulse club Sunday morning.
“We didn’t get the final word that he had passed until earlier this afternoon,” Roman said.
Haley Christie knows one friend is gone, and was holding out hope for a second.
“One is still missing and the other was in surgery and died,” Christie said.
All types of people attended. Muslims were conspicuous by their visible attire, and the crowd even cheered a Muslim cleric who condemned the killer and his expressed ideology.
“We condemn the ideology of hate and death and destruction, and we call for all Muslim leaders and communities across this nation, and around the world, to stand up and to deal with this cancer, and to remove it once and for all,” said Imam Muhammed Musri.
In the crowd, there was no appetite for railing against “radical Islam.”
“I don’t think it had to do anything with religion to begin with,” said Emily Sporn of Orlando. “It’s just hate.”
And amid the misery, there was a story of heroism – a 24-year-old bouncer at the club, a U.S. veteran who served in Afghanistan and then risked his own life to run from cover, open a door, and lead people to safety.
Imram Youseff is credited with saving many lives, but he is haunted by those he could not help.
“I wish I could’ve saved more, to be honest — it’s a lot of people that are dead,” he said tearfully. “There’s a lot of people that are dead.”
Earlier Monday, a friend told a harrowing story Monday of a bartender who was shot and wounded in the Orlando nightclub massacre.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, Chris Enzo heard from his friend, Rodney Sumter, right before the massacre. Sumter was making one final drink at last call.
“So he goes over to grab her the alcohol, top shelf, to give her what she needed, and in that process he got shot three times,” Enzo said. “The girl in front of him was killed.”
Sumter fell to the ground, Enzo said.
“He hears nothing but fear, chaos, pandemonium,” he said.
But Sumter managed to find the strength to escape.
“And because he ran for it, he did make it out and he is alive right now,” Enzo said.
But Enzo said the big bartender’s condition left him shattered.
“He’s a big guy. He’s a built guy. He’s a buff guy, you know? He’s a really strong person. He’s a really strong-willed person, you know?” Enzo said. “And to see him just broken on his medical bed; to see him suffering and almost lost his life for literally senseless madness? It is heartbreaking. It does resonate with you. It does hit you in a way that you just can’t understand until you see it.”
Victims’ Family Members Offered Comfort
Meantime at a senior center a short distance from the scene, family members were getting information and comfort as needed Monday.
“There’s a lot of ambivalence,” said Orlando City Commissioner Tom Ortiz. “There’s a lot of people that are destroyed by the fact that they have learned that their family members have perished.”
A counselor, Bishop Daniel Rogers, said hope dies hard, “but you know, a lot of them, even through the tears, can still remember some good things about their loved ones.”
Officials said that by 11 p.m. Sunday, all bodies of victims had been turned over to the Orange County, Florida Medical Examiner’s office.
“Identifying next of kin is 100 percent priority today,” Mina said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said families of the victims are continuing to be notified.
“We continue to work hard to take care of these families,” he said. “Right now, it’s time to take time to grieve for each family member. ”
The notification process has been complicated by the diverse nature of the victims.
“Some of the victims’ families are in other countries like Venezuela, Colombia — you know, South America,” Ortiz said.
Appeals have been made to the to Florida U.S. senators, Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to ease the visa requirements for people from those countries, especially Venezuela where restrictions are quite tight right now, so that family members can come to Florida and deal with the gruesome situation.
President Barack Obama will travel to Orlando on Thursday to offer what comfort he can. In his announcement, he used the word “solidarity.”
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