Gunman who killed 49 in gay club 'may have been homosexual himself'
US law enforcement officials are investigating reports that the man who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando may have been gay himself, but not openly so, two officials said yesterday, with one describing the massacre as a possible "self-hate crime".
Omar Mateen, who was shot dead by police after a three-hour stand-off early on Sunday, left behind a tangled trail of possible motives. He also called police during his rampage to voice allegiance to various militant Islamist groups.
Federal investigators have said Mateen was likely self-radicalised and there is no evidence that he received any instruction or aid from outside groups, such as Islamic State (Isil). Mateen (29), was a US citizen, born in New York of Afghan immigrant parents.
US President Barack Obama has called the attack a case of "homegrown extremism".
Soon after the attack, Mateen's father indicated that his son had harboured strong anti-gay feelings.
He recounted an incident when his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in downtown Miami while out with his wife and young son.
The investigation into the possibility that Mateen may have been gay himself follows media reports citing men who said they were regulars at the club and who reported seeing Mateen there before the attack.
However, another source disputed the idea that Mateen was a regular visitor to Pulse.
Visiting a gay club in and of itself would say nothing about Mateen's sexuality, as he could have a variety of reasons for such a visit.
The two US officials said that if it emerged that Mateen led a secret double life or had gay impulses that conflicted with his religious beliefs, it might have been what the same official called "one factor" in explaining his motive.
"It's far too early to be definitive, and some leads inevitably don't pan out, but we have to consider at least the possibility that he might have sought martyrdom partly to gain absolution for what he believed were his grave sins," one of the officials said.
A performer at Orlando's Parliament House, another gay club, said he had seen Mateen at Pulse occasionally before his rampage, often accompanied by a male friend. But he had not seen Mateen in about two years, he said. "He always introduced himself as Omar," said the performer, Ty Smith, who uses the stage name 'Aires'. He added that Mateen usually was quiet, but sometimes showed flashes of temper.
"He was fine most of the time, but other times, if he was drinking, he'd go all spastic and we'd have to take him out to his car and make him leave."
But a bartender who worked at a club affiliated with Pulse who visited the club on his nights off said it was not true Mateen had been a regular visitor.
"That's a lie," Raymond Michael Sharpe said in a text message. "I would have known him. Somebody stirring the pot. No one knew him."
Mateen worked as a private security guard at a gated retirement community. During his rampage, he made a series of calls to emergency 911 dispatchers in which he pledged loyalty to the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
He also claimed solidarity in those calls with the ethnic Chechen brothers who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and with a Palestinian-American who became a suicide bomber in Syria for the al Qaeda offshoot known as the Nusra Front, authorities said.
Mateen was interviewed in 2013 and 2014 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the first time after co-workers reported that he had made claims of family connections to al Qa'ida and membership in the Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah, according to the FBI.
Federal investigators found no evidence connecting him to militant groups.
Isil reiterated on Monday a claim of responsibility, though it offered no signs to indicate coordination with the gunman.
Comey said the FBI closed its earlier investigation of Mateen after 10 months. Removal of Mateen from the FBI's watch list at that time permitted him to buy firearms without the FBI being notified," Comey added.