The Latest On The Orlando Attacks, Deadliest Mass Shooting In U.S. History

Jun 12, 2016
Originally published on June 12, 2016 7:04 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Early this morning, a lone gunman opened fire in a crowded nightclub frequented by those in the LGBT community. He killed 50 people and wounded 53 others. Officials are trying to piece together information about the gunman and looking for a motive. And among the possibilities is that this man killed for ISIS. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston has been following the story, and she's with us now. Dina, thanks so much for speaking with us once again.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Now, law enforcement officials suggested that this may have been an ISIS-inspired attack. Let's listen to what they said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONALD HOPPER: There were 9-1-1 calls in which there was conversation between the subject and law-enforcement representatives with 9-1-1 dispatchers. It's my understanding - I have not personally listened to them - but it was general to the Islamic State.

MARTIN: Dina, tell us more about this.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think the thing the investigators are trying to determine is whether this ISIS connection was opportunistic or ideological. I mean, on its official newsfeed, ISIS took responsibility for this attack. And they said one of their followers was responsible.

But they didn't give any details about the attack beyond what's been reported publicly, which suggests this is very different from, for example, the November Paris attacks, which were planned and initiated by the group from Syria. There's no indication so far, for example, that the shooter, Omar Mateen, had any direct contact with ISIS whatsoever. And this gets to the difficulty of these kinds of attacks.

Back in the days when al-Qaida was the biggest threat, there was a lot more command in control. The heads of al-Qaida had to approve every attack, so it was easier to get to motive. Now the connections are just much more gossamer, so it's hard to say definitively what the motive might have been in this case.

MARTIN: What else do we know about the shooter?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, he's 29 years old. He was born here in the United States. His parents came from Afghanistan. He was a security guard in West Palm Beach and had had that job - a steady job - the past nine years. Officials say that he made some inflammatory remarks to co-workers back in 2013. And those statements were investigated by the FBI. He was questioned again in 2014, but there wasn't any reason to pursue it any further. The FBI decided he wasn't dangerous.

It's important to note that ISIS didn't even exist when Mateen was questioned. As far as we know, he has no al-Qaida connections or ever tried to travel to join other terrorist groups. Officials have been worrying for a long time that the saturation coverage of ISIS rather than the ideology itself will end up motivating terrorist attacks in this country. And I think they're trying to get to whether or not this is a case of that.

MARTIN: Now, have officials ruled out that this is a hate crime, that the gunman chose this particular venue because of animosity toward the LGBT community?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Not at all. I mean, those two things are not mutually exclusive. This could have been an ISIS-inspired attack and an attack against the LGBT community. Omar Mateen's father told NBC News that his son had seen two gay men kissing several months ago, and that had really angered him. ISIS is an avowedly anti-gay terrorist organization. People suspected of being gay who live in the parts of Syria and Iraq that ISIS controls are routinely thrown off buildings to their death. I don't know if these attacks can be described as singularly motivated. I think most of these kinds of attacks usually have many motivations.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, you've covered a lot of these kinds of attacks. And it's early in the investigation, but given the breadth of your reporting and what you know, how would you characterize this?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, so far this seems a little like the San Bernardino attacks. You'll recall that the San Bernardino attacks, a husband and wife team went into a Christmas party - where some of his fellow employees were having a Christmas party - and they opened fire. And about 40 minutes before that attack, Syed Farook's wife said on Facebook that they both pledged allegiance to ISIS. In this case, as we heard from the tape, it appears Omar Mateen declared his allegiance in a 9-1-1 call to police while the attack was actually going on. So one of the questions that's still unanswered is what exactly is the connection to ISIS in this case?

MARTIN: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Thanks Dina.

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