Orlando shooter said attack was revenge for U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, survivor recalls

A witness says Orlando gunman Omar Mateen vowed to keep killing people until the U.S. stopped bombing Afghanistan

Published June 15, 2016 8:12PM (EDT)

Omar Mateen   (AP)
Omar Mateen (AP)

The gunman who massacred 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Sunday said the attack was meant to get “Americans to stop bombing” Afghanistan, according to a survivor who witnessed the attack.

Patience Carter, who was inside the Pulse club during the shooter's three-hour hostage standoff, said during a news conference that, on his call with a 911 dispatcher, the gunman made his motivation clear.

"Everybody who was in the bathroom who survived could hear him talking to 911, saying the reason why he's doing this is because he wanted America to stop bombing his country," Carter said.

The shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was born in the United States, but his parents were from Afghanistan.

According to Carter, Mateen also spared black hostages, who he said have already "suffered enough." Carter recalled the shooter asking the hostages in the club's bathroom if anyone was black. When someone said yes, he replied, “You know I don’t have a problem with black people.” Carter said Mateen then added, “This is about my country. You guys suffered enough.”

Mateen reportedly said that he would not stop the attack until the U.S. stopped bombing Afghanistan.

"The motive is very clear to us who are laying in our own blood and other people's blood, who are injured, who were shot," Carter recalled. "He wasn't going to stop killing people until he was killed, until he felt like his message got out there."

The FBI also says that, during his 911 call from the club, the gunman referenced the Boston Marathon bombers. As The Washington Post noted, Mateen's "claim that he carried out the shooting to prevent bombings echoed a message the younger Boston attacker had scrawled in a note before he was taken into custody by police."

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers behind the Boston bombing, said his attack was meant in retaliation to U.S. bombing of Muslims too. “The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that," he wrote.

"I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all," the Boston bomber added. "Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said … it is allowed."

Mateen shot more than 100 people in the attack, killing 49 and wounding 53 more. The number of deaths could rise, as some of the survivors are in critical condition.

The attack was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The majority of the victims were LGBT Latinos. Pulse is a prominent gay club, and it was holding a "Latin Night."

Further complicating the story are claims that the shooter may himself have been gay. Numerous witnesses said he had visited the nightclub numerous times before. Others said they saw him on gay dating apps.

The boyfriend of Sitora Yusufiy, the Orlando shooter's ex-wife, told reporters that Yusufiy had described Mateen as having “gay tendencies.” She reportedly said that Mateen's dad had called him gay in front of her.

As Gawker noted, Yusufiy's boyfriend also told reporters that U.S. federal investigators told the shooter's ex-wife not to tell certain facts to the media.

Yusufiy told the FBI that her ex-husband was unstable and was likely not part of a terrorist group, the boyfriend recalled.

"The FBI asked her not to tell this to the American media," he added.

According to the FBI, Mateen pledged allegiance for ISIS in the 911 call. A recording of the 911 call has not been released.

Law enforcement officials also say that Mateen made another call during the standoff, to an acquaintance from Florida.

The FBI claims that Mateen had supported conflicting Islamist groups, including ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, all of which are fighting each other. Hezbollah, a Shia militia, and ISIS, a Sunni fascist group, are mortal enemies in particular.

FBI Director James Comey said at a press conference that the shooter's past comments about Islamist groups were “inflammatory and contradictory.”

"Officials have not publicly said what they believe may have motivated him to open fire inside Pulse," The Washington Post noted.

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

He described the gunman as “an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized” by "extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet." Obama called it a case of “homegrown extremism.”

“We see no clear evidence that he was directed externally,” the president 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 told the hostages in the bathroom that he had “snipers outside” the club.

The witness, Patience Carter, told reporters, “It sounded as if he was communicating with other people who were involved with it…. Maybe he was just deranged, maybe he’s just talking to himself, but I honestly feel like I don’t think he was able to pull that off all by himself.”

Orlando police say rumors that multiple shooters were involved in the attack are not true. Mateen was the sole gunman, authorities say.

Mateen had worked for nine years with the global mercenary corporation G4S, the world’s largest private security company. When he was hired in 2007, Mateen received a firearms license issued by the state of Florida and a security officers’ license.

Most of the political response to the attack has gone in one of two directions.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and far-right pundits like internet conspiracist Alex Jones have blamed the attack on immigration, even though the shooter was born in New York in 1987.

Democratic lawmakers have called for greater gun control measures. Mateen bought both of the guns he used in the attack legally, approximately a week apart, roughly 10 days before the shooting. One of the weapons he used was a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called on U.S. authorities to adopt “robust gun control measures.”

“It is hard to find a rational justification that explains the ease with which people can buy firearms, including assault rifles, in spite of prior criminal backgrounds, drug use, histories of domestic violence and mental illness, or direct contact with extremists — both domestic and foreign,” said the U.N. human rights official in a statement.

There appears to have been little political discussion of the U.S. bombing and foreign policy that allegedly inspired Mateen to carry out the attack.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan will soon enter its 15th year, and civilians in the country continue to bear the brunt of the violence. Millions of Afghans have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have been killed. Meanwhile, violence and displacement are progressively getting worse in Afghanistan, not better.

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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