On June 12, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen took 49 lives during the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Orange County (Fla.) Sheriffs describe it as a “lone wolf” attack that aimed at inflicting maximal casualties and terror.
What We Know
Mateen was armed with a Sig Sauer MCX and a Glock 17 when he approached Pulse Nightclub, a popular LGBT hangout, just after 2 a.m. The club was hosting a Latin-themed dance party and a uniformed Orlando Police Department (OPD) officer working security at the event engaged Mateen in a gunfight. Mateen was able to evade the officer and enter the club just as last call was announced.
Two more OPD officers immediately arrived on scene and pursued Mateen into the club. Mateen meanwhile retreated into the cavernous and booming space, taking hostages and murdering as he went. Some of the patrons would later report that they thought the gunfire was part of the music soundtrack. At 2:11 a.m., eight minutes after Mateen fired his first shot, Pulse posted on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
By this time, public safety personnel from multiple agencies—several fire departments, local sheriff and police departments, FBI, and paramedics—were on scene.
At around 2:30 a.m., at the height of the massacre, the killer called 911 and pledged allegiance to two international terrorist organizations that are conflicted, according to FBI Director James Comey.
“During the calls, he said he was doing this for the leader of ISIL, who he named and pledged loyalty to,” Comey said. “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, a group in conflict with the so-called Islamic State.”
At 5 a.m. SWAT operators breached the building, deploying two flashbangs and shooting Mateen to death. 30 hostages were freed in the operation. One of the eleven SWAT operators who engaged the killer was hit in the helmet with a bullet and was sent to the hospital for eye surgery.
39 were killed inside the club and two lay dead outside. In the coming hours eight more victims would succumb to their wounds. 53 people were injured. The City of Orlando declared a state of emergency and locked down the hospitals where the victims were being treated.
Meanwhile, just hours later in Los Angeles, police considered postponing the LA Pride event in West Hollywood after police discovered a 20-year-old man from Indiana with three assault rifles and explosives-making chemicals. That incident is still under investigation.
Background & Investigations
Mateen was born in New York City to Afghan parents and worked as a security guard in Florida. In 2006 and 2007, for a total of seven months, Mateen had worked for the Florida State Department of Corrections as a prison guard. He was let go for matters “unrelated to misconduct.” In 2007 he began work for G4S Secure Solutions as a security guard. The company said that several screenings of him presented no “red flags.”
At the same time, one of his co-workers has come forward to claim that the killer routinely defamed homosexuals, Jews, African-Americans, women, and the United States, which he said had destroyed Afghanistan. His ex-wife claims he was unstable, used steroids, was physically abusive, and perhaps bipolar.
Comey, who refused to use the killer’s name, reaffirmed the agency’s first contact with was in May 2013 when Mateen was working as a contract security guard at a local courthouse.
“He made some statements that were inflammatory and contradictory that concerned his co-workers about terrorism. First he claimed he had family connections to al-Qaeda,” Comey said. “He also said he was a member of Hezbollah … which is a bitter enemy of the so-called Islamic State. He said he hoped law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself.”
Mateen’s name surfaced once more in July 2014, he said, when the FBI was investigating a Florida suicide bomber and it was learned he and Mateen had attended the same mosque.
“The investigation,” he said, “turned up no ties of any consequence between the two of them.”
Terrorist Links & Law Enforcement
Although ISIS has praised the Orlando attack across social media platforms, it seems the group was surprised by events. The ISIS-affiliated news network Amaq reported an encrypted brief on Sunday in which it claimed the massacre was perpetrated by “a source.” This is different language than has been used in recent attacks, such as Paris and Brussels, during which the actual ISIS media wing claimed credit for the attacks.
ISIS, which has been losing ground in the Middle East—especially in Syria in recent months—has been calling on more “lone wolf” attacks to be carried out by people inspired by ISIS who are living in the west.
Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, ISIS’ official spokesperson, has recently encouraged adherents abroad to commit acts of violence during the month of Ramadan, which occurs from June 5 to July 5, 2016. No attack is too small, says al-Adnani, specifically naming the United States as a target. “The smallest action you do in the heart of their land is dearer to us than the largest action by us,” he said, “and more effective and more damaging to them.”
All that is required by ISIS is that adherents make public oath of fealty to the Islamic State before or during the attacks. We have now seen this in San Bernardino, Calif., where, on Dec. 2, 2015, a married couple inspired by carried out an attack that left 22 dead. Before doing so they posted an oath to Facebook. We also saw this in the case of Elton Simpson, who posted several Tweets before shooting up a cartoon event in Garland, Texas, pledging his allegiance to ISIS. This is another reason law enforcement must be active online.
With the bar for entry so low, law enforcement is now squarely on the front lines. Attackers need not be sophisticated or even coherent in their motives, as we have seen in the ensuing debate about just what Madeen’s motives might have been–religious, social, mental, and so forth. As Calibre Press owner Jim Glennon put it after the San Bernardino attacks: “Everyone in this country is a potential ‘soft target’: people at malls, community gatherings, schools, amusement parks, college campuses, and so on. This places America’s civilian law enforcement on the frontline. … Is this nation prepared for law enforcement to take on that role? Is law enforcement ready to take on that role?”
Clearly in Orlando police and their allies were poised to respond, placing themselves in grave danger to end the threat and save lives. Police had at their disposal armored vehicles, ballistic helmets and vests, automatic weapons and—most importantly—the training and willingness to use them properly and decisively. Without a kevlar helmet a SWAT officer would almost certainly be dead today. Instead he, a hero, is recuperating in the hospital.