Orlando shooter supported conflicting Islamist groups that are fighting each other, FBI says

Omar Mateen allegedly supported enemy groups ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, calling into question his understanding

Published June 13, 2016 11:00PM (EDT)

Omar Mateen   (AP/Balkis Press)
Omar Mateen (AP/Balkis Press)

The shooter who massacred 49 people at a gay club in Orlando, Florida on Sunday appeared to be ignorant about the conflicting Islamist groups he expressed support for.

Federal investigators say Omar Mateen backed militant groups that are enemies, and are actively fighting each other in Syria.

FBI Director James Comey said at a news conference on Monday that Mateen had previously made “inflammatory and contradictory” statements about Islamist groups to his coworkers.

Mateen called 911 before the attack early Sunday morning and told the dispatcher he was attacking the Pulse nightclub on behalf of ISIS, the FBI said.

Yet the 29-year-old gunman, who was born in New York, also said he was partially inspired by an American suicide bomber with al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, which is an enemy of ISIS.

And before that, Mateen claimed to be a member of Hezbollah, a Shia militia that opposes the violent Sunni extremism of both ISIS and al-Qaeda.

In Syria, Hezbollah is aligned with the government and is fighting both al-Nusra and ISIS; al-Nusra, on the other hand, is aligned with the anti-government rebels and is fighting Hezbollah and ISIS. The self-declared Islamic State is fighting all of them.

These blatant contradictions call into question whether Mateen really knew what he was supporting. As journalist Ali Abunimah commented, the "Orlando killer previously claimed to be member of Hizbullah, a mortal enemy of ISIS. He was delusional and disturbed."

After the attack, ISIS claimed the gunman as a member. But President Obama stressed that there is no evidence that Mateen was actually materially linked to any of these groups.

He was “inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet,” Obama said, calling it a case of “homegrown extremism.”

“We see no clear evidence that he was directed externally,” Obama added. “It does appear that at the last minute, he announced allegiance to ISIL. But there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by ISIL, and at this stage there’s no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot.” ISIL is another name for ISIS, or the Islamic State.

Mateen had worked for nine years with the global mercenary corporation G4S, the world's largest private security company. In a report Monday on G4S' "tainted" record, the Associated Press cited an attorney who previously sued the corporation. He said that, because of its low wages and high turnover, the company is "pretty desperate to hire people" and doesn't do law enforcement checks.

When he was hired in 2007, Mateen received a firearms license issued by the state of Florida and a security officers' license.

Reporter David Ovalle said a co-worker at G4S told him that Mateen frequently used slurs attacking gay people and black Americans.

A woman who knew Mateen said he had U.S. Marine stickers on his car, including one that read Semper Fi, and appeared to be patriotic, saluting her on Memorial Day. Two widely circulated selfie photos also show him wearing NYPD shirts.

Mateen massacred 49 people and injured another 53, most of whom were Latinos, in the attack, before being killed by a SWAT team. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

A team of police negotiators that worked at the scene of the attack recalled, “He really wasn’t asking for anything.” It appeared to be a suicide mission, although authorities did not comment further.

The FBI had investigated Mateen twice. Comey said the first time was in 2013, when Mateen told co-workers that he had relatives connected to the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda while simultaneously claiming he was a member of the Shia militia Hezbollah.

"FBI agents closed their 2013 investigation into Mateen after concluding that he didn’t understand how al-Qaeda operated and had not committed a crime," the Los Angeles Times reported. "He told investigators he had been lying and blustering about his terrorist ties."

In the second investigation, in 2014, the FBI said Mateen had been watching al-Qaeda propaganda videos and attending a mosque with Moner Abu Salha, a man who became a suicide bomber for al-Nusra.

On Sunday morning, Mateen allegedly told the 911 dispatcher that he was partially inspired by Abu Salha to carry out the attack on the nightclub, yet Mateen died fighting for an extremist group that opposes ISIS.

Mateen also previously expressed support for the 2013 Boston bombers. The FBI said that, during his 911 call, he referred to the Boston Marathon bombers as his “homeboys.” The Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the April 15, 2013, attack, killed three people and injured more than 260.

Even further complicating the background is the fact that Mateen's father, Seddique Mateen, who hosts a TV show about Afghan politics, has expressed support for the Afghan Taliban, another Sunni extremist group.

Seddique Mateen forcefully condemned his son's attack, however, dubbing it an act of terrorism and calling the victims "my family." He told reporters he never suspected his son would do such a thing, noting, "If I did know of 1 percent that he’s committing such a crime, my son, I would arrest him myself. I would have called the FBI."

Mateen's father, nevertheless, added that he feels homosexuality is forbidden by God.

Mustafa Abasin, the gunman’s brother-in-law, told reporters that he had never heard Mateen discuss politics or violence.

Mateen bought both of the guns he used in the attack legally, approximately a week apart, roughly 10 days before the shooting.

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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