Investigators Provide More Background On Orlando Nightclub Shooter

Jun 16, 2016
Originally published on June 16, 2016 6:46 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Investigators looking into the life of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen are piecing together a narrative that looks more like the profile of a mass shooter than that of a terrorist inspired by ISIS. They stress that the investigation is just beginning, but the details so far suggest he opened fire on the Pulse Nightclub as an expression of power and control. There is little evidence so far that suggests he shared ISIS's ideology much before the attack took place.

NPR's counter-terrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston has been following this story and joins us now. Hi, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: What are the latest details that you've been hearing about this investigation?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's important to say at the outset, as you did, that the investigators haven't even finished processing the crime scenes, so some of these theories are very preliminary. But our sources told us that they've been struck by how closely Mateen's biography adheres to the biography that's typical of a mass shooter. He was bullied as a kid in school.

He was heavy. He was different because he was Afghan. He was socially awkward. As he got older, he took steroids. He picked fights and appeared to be genuinely toxic so he could project power. His history of domestic violence fits into a mass shooter's profile as well. His first wife has been very vocal about how we beat her for the smallest infraction like not doing the laundry. She said he controlled every aspect of her life - took her paychecks, kept her at home, wouldn't let her talk to her family.

You know, violence and control and power are often precursors to mass attacks, and this is one of the investigative avenues they're pursuing.

SHAPIRO: And what about reports we've been hearing all week that he may have been to this gay nightclub before, that perhaps he was struggling with his own sexuality? What have you learned from investigators about that thread?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the FBI and local police are sifting through literally hundreds of tips, and they haven't interviewed everyone. That said, we understand they have yet to find anyone in the gay community in Orlando who says he actually hooked up with Mateen or had a physical interaction with him.

SHAPIRO: Physical interaction meaning, like, sex.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Sex or even kissing him - any physical interaction. And that doesn't mean it didn't happen, but officials are surprised that all they've heard about so far is people saying that they saw him in the Pulse Nightclub before the attacks. And there were some reports that Mateen had approached people on gay matchmaking sites. Investigators are still running that to ground, but they haven't ruled out that both of these things were just part of his attack plan, basically his attempt to case a possible target. And that's where the evidence has led them so far, anyway.

SHAPIRO: And what about actual links to ISIS? What do investigators make of his 911 call during the attack when he said he was doing this for the terrorist group?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, and he posted some posts to Facebook actually during the attack saying the same thing. But the sources we talk to who are close to the investigation say they've been struck by the fact that there's almost nothing besides that - the phone call, maybe some extensive video watching of extremist videos in the run-up to the attack and these Facebook post that they think he did.

Aside from that, there's nothing that indicates he had any terrorist ties much before the attack. And this gets to what we've been saying from the beginning - that the FBI hasn't determined yet whether he mentioned ISIS opportunistically, hoping it would get him more media coverage or if he was really ideologically tied to the group.

SHAPIRO: We've also reported that a grand jury was convened to look into whether his wife, Noor Salman, was somehow involved. Do you know anything more about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, she has been cooperating with authorities, and they say she's been very helpful. But there are lots of inconsistencies in her story. For example, she said she didn't know that the attack was coming, but she also told authorities that she tried to talk him out of the attack. She was with him when he bought ammunition last week. She actually joined him at the Pulse Nightclub before the attack. Although it's possible she didn't know that he was there to case the place. So a grand jury is looking at all of this. It's not clear if they'll bring charges, but they're certainly considering that.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Thanks, Dina.

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