ORLANDO, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES (JUNE 13, 2016) (REUTERS) – Family and friends of victims trapped in a gay nightclub by a gunman pledging loyalty to Islamic State waited anxiously on Monday (June 13) to find out whether their loved ones were among the 50 people killed and 53 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The FBI and other law enforcement authorities were poring over evidence that could explain the motives for the rampage in Orlando, Florida, a massacre that President Barack Obama denounced as an act of terror and hate.
The gunman, Omar Mateen, a New York-born Florida resident and U.S. citizen who was the son of Afghan immigrants, was shot and killed by police who stormed the club with armored cars after a three-hour siege.
Mateen, 29, called emergency services during the shooting and pledged allegiance to the leader of the militant Islamic State group, officials said. His father said on Sunday his son was not radicalized, but indicated Mateen had strong anti-gay feelings. His ex-wife described him as mentally unstable and violent toward her.
Islamic State reiterated on Monday a claim of responsibility for the attack. “One of the Caliphate’s soldiers in America carried out a security invasion where he was able to enter a crusader gathering at a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando, Florida … where he killed and injured more than a hundred of them before he was killed,” the group said in a broadcast on its Albayan Radio
Although the group claimed responsibility, this did not necessarily mean it directed the attack: there was nothing in the claim indicating coordination between the gunman and Islamic State before the rampage.
The attack reignited the debate over how best to confront violent Islamist militancy, a top issue in the Nov. 8 presidential election campaign. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump were both expected to address the issue on Monday.
Some 350 patrons were attending a Latin music event at the club, a well-known gay nightspot in the city, and survivors described scenes of carnage and pandemonium as the shooter took hostages inside a bathroom.