America Devastated by Worst Terror Attack Since 9/11

Rampage on Orlando nightclub kills at least 49, stoking fears of ISIS (Updated)

Nightclub Shooting Florida Vigil

Mourners gather around candles lit during a vigil after a fatal shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub / AP

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America was devastated by the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 on Sunday, and details emerging about the suspected shooter in the Florida rampage gave early indication of ties to ISIS.

Omar Mateen, 29, has been identified as the gunman who opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando around 2 a.m. Sunday, an attack that quickly morphed into a hostage situation and left at least 49 people dead, plus the shooter, and 53 injured as of Monday morning. The gunman died in a shootout with police three hours after the first shots were fired when a SWAT team stormed the club to save those held captive.

Mateen was a U.S. citizen born to Afghan parents in 1986. He lived in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Mateen was interviewed by the FBI in 2013 and 2014 for possible terror connections, officials said Sunday, but he was found not to be a threat.

He also pledged allegiance to ISIS, the terror group that claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels months prior, during the attack.

CNN reported that Mateen called 911 less than a half hour into the rampage and pledged allegiance to ISIS. He also referenced the brothers behind the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, during the call.

Mateen worked for G4S Secure Solutions, a private security company, and was not under investigation by the FBI during the time of the attack. He entered the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning armed with a handgun and an assault rifle, both of which ATF officials said were legally purchased in recent days. The club was packed with more than 300 people at the time of the shooting.

Authorities swiftly described the rampage as a "domestic terror incident" and the FBI is spearheading the investigation into the attack. While the death toll was initially placed at about 20, authorities later said that at least 49 victims were killed in the attack, in addition to the shooter. Dozens more are being treated for their wounds at area hospitals.

The attack led Florida Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in the city.

Local authorities have begun to release the identities of the victims online after notifying their families. As of Monday morning, police had publicly identified more than half of the individuals killed in the rampage.

President Obama in televised remarks from the White House called the attack an "act of terror" and noted that the incident was particularly devastating to the LGBT community.

"We know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate," Obama said. "The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. … I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what—if any—inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred."

"This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender," Obama continued.

Several Republican lawmakers responded to the attack by emphasizing the need for America to defeat terrorist groups such as ISIS in order to preserve national security.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and the brave men and women who risked their lives to save others," Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, said in a statement. "My committee will work to support the federal role in investigating this terror attack and protecting against further threats. As Americans we must unite to defeat terrorism’s threat to our nation’s security."

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this hateful terrorist act that targeted the Orlando gay community. Gunman Omar Mateen’s motivations remind us of the immediate threat the Islamic State poses to our country and the need for swift action to protect Americans from future attacks here at home," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.).

The Orlando rampage took place about six months after a radicalized married couple opened fire on a San Bernardino, California, holiday party, killing 14 people. The shooters in that attack also pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Even as ISIS has lost territory in Iraq and Syria, the group has successfully carried out external attacks and used technology and propaganda to recruit supporters. The State Department issued a terrorism report earlier this month describing ISIS as the greatest global threat last year.

"Beyond affiliated groups, [ISIS] was able to inspire attacks in 2015 by individuals or small groups of self-radicalized individuals in several cities around the world. [ISIL]’s propaganda and its use of social media have created new challenges for counterterrorism efforts," the report stated.

The State Department also recently issued a travel alert to Americans planning trips to Europe, where terror threats remain elevated for major events and in the vicinity of transportation hubs.

UPDATE 8:15 A.M.: An earlier version of this post said that the death toll in the attack was 50. Authorities have now clarified that that figure included Omar Mateen, the shooter. The story has been updated accordingly.

Morgan Chalfant   Email Morgan | Full Bio | RSS
Morgan Chalfant is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, Morgan worked as a staff writer at Red Alert Politics. She also served as the year-long Collegiate Network fellow on the editorial page at USA TODAY from 2013-14. Morgan graduated from Boston College in 2013 with a B.A. in English and Mathematics. Her Twitter handle is @mchalfant16.

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