The authorities in the US city of Orlando have been giving more details of the gun attack on a gay club in which 49 people were killed.
Gunman Omar Mateen opened fire in the early hours of Sunday morning in the deadliest mass shooting in recent US history, which left 53 people injured.
Police chief John Mina said an off-duty officer working at the club had engaged Mateen in a gun battle. Shortly after, more police officers arrived while the suspect was shooting.
They engaged Mateen in a gun battle, forcing him to retreat to the bathroom, Mr Mina said, where he held hostages. At that time, “dozens and dozens” of people were able to be rescued from the Pulse nightclub, the police chief said. Mateen was on the phone with police from the bathroom, Mr Mina said, and made a pledge of allegiance to so-called Islamic State while speaking to them.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer praised the “heroic acts” of the city’s police department, law enforcement agencies and citizens.
So far, 26 victims have been named: 22 men and four women. They include:
Edward Sotomayor, 34, who worked for a company that organised gay cruises
Stanley Almodovar, 23, a pharmacy technician who was remembered as “kind and sassy”
Kimberly Morris, 37, who had only recently moved to Orlando and worked at Pulse as a bouncer
Luis Vielma, 22, who worked at the Harry Potter section at Universal Studios – author J K Rowling paid tribute to him online
Eddie Justice, 30, who sent his mother a series of text messages while inside the club
Who Was The Killer?
Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent who was born in New York and lived in Florida, was not on a terrorism watch list. However, the FBI interviewed him twice in 2013-14 after he made “inflammatory remarks” to a colleague, before closing its investigation. Mateen had legally purchased several guns in the days before the attack.
Seddique Mateen, the father of the gunman, said he did not know that his son had a “grudge in his heart” and did not understand why his son had carried out the shooting.
A statement on the IS-affiliated Amaq news agency said an IS “fighter” was responsible and on Monday, the group’s al-Bayan radio called Mateen “one of the Caliphate’s soldiers in the US”.
A security company that Mateen used to work for said he had been vetted twice. The checks in 2007 and 2013 did not reveal anything of concern, G4S said, and Mateen had carried a gun as part of his job.
The FBI’s admission that it investigated Mateen on a number of occasions will raise questions not just for law enforcement but for the wider US security community. It has frequently been the case in a number of countries that individuals are assessed as not dangerous at one point and then turn out to be a threat later. In the UK, this led the Security Service to place more emphasis on going back and checking up on previous cases to ensure that the threat assessment made in the past had not changed.
Keeping detailed files and watch on people can be resource-intensive, however, and has raised concerns over civil liberties in the past.
As the concern over home-grown terrorism in the US grows, there may be pressure to do more and there may also be further questions as to whether a previous investigation for possible terrorism should place people not just on No-Fly lists, but also restrict their ability to purchase weapons.
Ex-wife: Mateen Was ‘Disturbed’
Sitora Yusufiy lived with Mateen for four months in 2009. She said her family had “rescued” her from the relationship when they became aware he was being physically abusive. He beat her up regularly during their short-lived marriage for trivial things like not doing laundry, she said. “When he would get in his tempers, he would express hate toward everything. He was mentally unstable and mentally ill: that’s the only explanation that I could give.”
The death toll means that the Orlando attack surpasses the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, which left 32 people dead.
According to the crowd-sourced Mass Shooting Tracker, the US suffered 372 mass shootings last year, defined as a single incident that kills or injures four or more people. Some 475 people were killed and 1,870 wounded. The latest incident came as Orlando was still reeling from the fatal shooting on Friday night of 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie following a concert in the city.