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‘Terror, hate’ in America

50 killed in worst mass shooting in US
12:23 AM June 14, 2016
Students at an art institute in Mumbai, India, light candles after making a mural with colored powder as a tribute to those killed in the Sunday June 12, 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Monday, June 13, 2016. The nightclub shooting which killed at least 50 people and was the deadliest U.S. mass shooting to date. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Students at an art institute in Mumbai, India, light candles after making a mural with colored powder as a tribute to those killed in the Sunday June 12, 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Monday, June 13, 2016. The nightclub shooting which killed at least 50 people and was the deadliest U.S. mass shooting to date. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

ORLANDO, Florida—Dozens of bodies were slowly removed overnight from a popular Orlando gay club after a gunman sprayed the helpless crowd with bullets in violence that killed 50 people and devastated a city famous for family-friendly theme parks.

When the attacker opened fire in the early hours of Sunday morning, it interrupted an evening of drinking, dancing and drag shows at a club known for tolerance for all people.

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Authorities said Omar Mateen emerged at the scene, carrying an AR-15 and fired relentlessly—20 rounds, 40, then 50 and more. In such tight quarters, the bullets could hardly miss. He shot at police. He took hostages.

When the gunfire at Pulse Orlando club finally stopped, 50 people were dead and dozens critically wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

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Mateen, who authorities said had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group in a 911 call around the time of the attack, died in a gun battle with SWAT members.

At the White House, President Barack Obama called the shooting an “act of terror” and an “act of hate” targeting a place of “solidarity and empowerment” for gays and lesbians.

Motive probed

Authorities are wondering if it was indeed an act of terrorism and are probing the background of Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen from Fort Pierce, Florida, who had worked as a security guard.

The gunman’s father recalled that his son recently got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami and said that might be related to the assault.

Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and 11 people died at hospitals, said Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Jon Alamo had been dancing at Pulse for hours when he wandered into the club’s main room just in time to see the gunman.

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“You ever seen how Marine guys hold big weapons, shooting from left to right? That’s how he was shooting at people,” he said.

“My first thought was, oh my God, I’m going to die,” Alamo said. “I was praying to God that I would live to see another day.”

‘He’s coming. I’m gonna die’

Pulse patron Eddie Justice texted his mother, Mina: “Mommy I love you. In club they shooting.” About 30 minutes later, hiding in a bathroom, he texted her: “He’s coming. I’m gonna die.”

Justice’s name would eventually be added to the city’s list of those killed in the shooting.

At least 53 people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.

The previous deadliest mass shooting in the United States was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people before killing himself.

‘Mentally unstable’

Mateen’s family was from Afghanistan, and he was born in New York. His family later moved to Florida, authorities said.

His ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters that her former husband was bipolar and “mentally unstable.”

Mateen was short-tempered and had a history with steroids, she said in remarks televised from Boulder, Colorado.

She described him as religious but not radical. He wanted to be a police officer and applied to a police academy, but she had no details.

The couple were  together for only four months, and the two had no contact for the last seven or eight years, she said.

Allegiance to IS

A law enforcement official said Mateen made a 911 call from the club in which he professed allegiance to the leader of the IS group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The official was familiar with the investigation, but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The extremist group did not officially claim responsibility for the attack, but the IS-run Aamaq news agency cited an unnamed source as saying the attack was carried out by an IS fighter.

Inflammatory

Even if the attacker supported the IS group, it was unclear whether the group planned or knew of the attack beforehand.

Mateen was not unknown to law enforcement: In 2013, he made inflammatory comments to coworkers and was interviewed twice, according to FBI agent Ronald Hopper, who called the interviews inconclusive.

In 2014, Hopper said, officials found that Mateen had ties to an American suicide bomber, but the agent described the contact as minimal, saying it did not constitute a threat at the time.

Asked if the gunman had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, Hopper said authorities had “suggestions that individual has leanings toward that.”

Mateen purchased at least two firearms legally within the last week or so, according to Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Shooting starts

The Orlando shooting started about 2 a.m., with more than 300 people inside Pulse.

ORLANDO GRAPHCIS“He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance,” said Jackie Smith, who saw two friends next to her get shot. “I just tried to get out of there.”

At 2:09 a.m., Pulse posted on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.”

Club-goer Rob Rick said the shooting started just as “everybody was drinking their last sip.”

When he heard shots, Rick dropped to the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth.

SWAT team arrives

A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area where only workers were allowed. People were then able to escape through the back of the club.

Mateen exchanged gunfire with 14 police officers at the club, and took hostages at one point.

In addition to the assault rifle, the shooter also had a handgun and some sort of “suspicious device,” the police chief said.

About 5 a.m., authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the remaining club-goers, according to the Orlando police chief, John Mina.

At first, officers mistakenly thought the gunman had strapped explosives to the dead after a bomb robot sent back images of a battery part next to a body, Mayor Dyer said.

That prevented paramedics from going in until authorities determined the battery was something that fell out of an exit sign or a smoke detector, Dyer said.

The robot was sent in after SWAT team members put explosive charges on a wall and an armored vehicle knocked it down in an effort to rescue hostages.

Just before 6 a.m., Pulse posted an update on its Facebook: “As soon as we have any information, we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”

Father apologizes

Authorities were looking into whether the shooter acted alone, according to Danny Banks, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“This is an incident, as I see it, that we certainly classify as domestic terror incident,” said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told NBC News about his son seeing the men kissing a couple of months ago.

“We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident,” Seddique said. “We are in shock like the whole country.”  AP

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TAGS: Islamic State, News, Omar Mateen, Orlando shooting, Pulse Club, Terrorism, US, world
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