Authorities Continue Investigation Into Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Jun 13, 2016
Originally published on June 14, 2016 1:46 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

One of the first things we heard about the shooter's motivations is a 911 call placed by the shooter in which he pledged allegiance to ISIS. But the story isn't as simple as that. FBI director James Comey explained today that investigators are trying to find out more.

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JAMES COMEY: We are going through the killer's life, as I said, especially his electronics, to understand as much as we can about his path and whether there was anyone else involved.

MCEVERS: NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is with us now. And Dina, we just heard from the FBI director there. What else did he have to say about where this investigation stands?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, he said there were strong indications that Omar Mateen, the man police have identified as the shooter, had in fact been radicalized. But his motives and exactly how he radicalized is still one of the focuses of the investigation.

I mean, the case is shaping up to look a lot like the San Bernardino attack that happened last December. You remember in that case it involved a husband-and-wife team of shooters who attacked an employee Christmas party. Fourteen people were killed, and 22 were seriously injured. But in that case, there was never any direct link to ISIS found. Even after months of investigation, officials have not been able to find a direct link to ISIS aside from a Facebook post the wife put up just before the attack.

Ever since then, there's been this question about what pledging allegiance to ISIS really means. Is this an opportunistic pledge that gets you press coverage or an ideological pledge? We're not sure yet in either of these cases, but what does seem clear is that this was not a shooting that was directed by the group from Syria, and Mateen looks like a freelancer.

MCEVERS: Police had actually talked to him during Sunday's mass shooting. What can you tell us about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, director Comey - we originally thought there was one phone call to a 911 dispatcher.

MCEVERS: Right.

TEMPLE-RASTON: But director Comey told us today that there were actually three different calls. First the killer called 911 and hung up. Then he called back and spoke briefly with the dispatcher. And we understand from our reporting that it was during that second call that he identified himself by name - Omar Mateen - and then he hung up again.

And Comey said the dispatcher called him back for a third time and spoke to him briefly. And that's when he said he was pledging allegiance to the leader of ISIS. But the director revealed that he said more than that.

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COMEY: But he also appeared to claim solidarity with the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing and solidarity with a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria for Al-Nusra Front, a group in conflict with the so-called Islamic State.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Now, of course they're all part of radical Islam, but it creates some questions about Mateen's commitment to ISIS and how stable he might have been mentally. I mean, one working theory is that all the saturation coverage of ISIS in the media is what inspired Mateen to bring it up on the phone call.

MCEVERS: Are investigators developing any leads that might give them some insight into his state of mind?

TEMPLE-RASTON: I think it's important to see this on two tracks. This was clearly terrorism - violence in pursuit of a political message. But this was a hate crime, too. Mateen's father said his son had a problem with the gay community. Apparently they were out together in Miami a couple of months ago, and he saw two men kissing and got really angry.

Another clue - Mateen's ex-wife has talked about a very violent and stormy marriage. She said he used to beat her. She claimed he was unstable and bipolar. She and some of his coworkers have claimed that he was racist and homophobic. So investigators are trying to piece together all these motives and gather details of his life to try to get to the bottom of this.

I mean, right now there's no direct link to ISIS, but that doesn't mean officials won't find one or the group didn't inspire him. That's something that could become clear as the investigation goes on.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Thank you very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.