Wednesday 21 February 2018

US Attorney General visits Orlando in wake of nightclub shooting

A makeshift memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida (AP)
A makeshift memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida (AP)

The US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has arrived in Orlando to meet with prosecutors, first responders and families of the victims of last week's nightclub shooting.

The trip comes as the US Justice Department continues investigating the June 12 massacre at the Pulse nightclub, in which 49 people died and dozens were injured.

Federal investigators have not ruled out charges against others in connection with the shooting and say they are still trying to determine why Omar Mateen, who died in a gunfight with police, targeted a popular gay nightclub.

Ms Lynch arrived at the FBI office in Orlando to be briefed by US Attorney Lee Bentley and other law enforcement officials, including prosecutors assigned to the investigation.

"I think there's a real benefit to having her here to see everything first hand," Mr Bentley said.

More clues emerged when the FBI released a partial transcript of phone calls Mateen had with a 911 emergency operator and police crisis negotiators once the shooting was under way.

He identified himself as an Islamic soldier, demanded to a crisis negotiator that the US "stop bombing" Syria and Iraq, warned of future violence in the coming days and at one point pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, the FBI said.

Despite his declarations, the FBI said it has found no evidence the attack was directed by a foreign terrorist organisation. Mateen instead appears to have radicalised on his own through jihadist propaganda on the internet.

The statements to police, which one FBI official said were made in a "chilling, calm and deliberate manner" were similar to posts he apparently made to Facebook around the time of the shooting.

"I let you know, I'm in Orlando and I did the shootings," Mateen said in one call that came more than half an hour after shots were fired, the FBI said.

Shortly after the call with a 911 operator, Mateen had three conversations with crisis negotiators in which he identified himself as an Islamic soldier and told a negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. He said that was why he was "out here right now", according to the excerpt.

The shooting has fostered discussion about US government efforts to identify and prevent individuals looking to commit violence - Mateen had been interviewed by the FBI three times since 2013 as part of two separate investigations and placed on a terror watch list - but also about whether stiffer gun control laws are needed.

The US Senate Monday rejected proposals from both parties on Monday to keep extremists from acquiring guns, including one that was publicly supported by the Justice Department.

Ms Lynch has said federal investigators are still unresolved as to what drove Mateen to violence and to what extent he may also have been motivated by anti-gay hatred.

Investigators have done hundreds of interviews, including with family members, and are working in particular to determine how much knowledge his wife had of the plot.

Ms Lynch's meeting with first responders comes as Orlando police face continued questions about the response to the rampage.

On Monday, police Chief John Mina said that if any fire from responding officers hit victims at the club, gunman Mateen bears the responsibility.

He would not give further details but said: "Here's what I will tell you. Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind."


Press Association

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