The gunman who killed 49 and injured 53 at a Orlando nightclub over the weekend was a homegrown terrorist likely inspired by what he read on the internet, President Barack Obama said Monday, adding that there is no evidence Omar Mateen was involved in a larger terrorist plot.
Obama made the comments at the White House Monday afternoon, shortly after he was briefed about the investigation by FBI Director James Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Associated Press reports. The massacre, identified as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, is being treated as a terror investigation.
“At this stage, we see no clear evidence that he was directed externally,” Obama said, referring to suggestions that the Islamic State group or other extremists had orchestrated the attack. “It does appear that at the last minute, he announced allegiance to ISIL,” he said, using an acronym for the extremist group.
Adding that the investigation is in the preliminary phase, Obama said the shooter may have been radicalized by “various extremist information that was disseminated over the internet,” which authorities are examining. Though Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS in 911 calls before the shooting, it is not believed the directive came from overseas. The attack appears to be similar to the San Bernardino, California shooting last year, when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, inspired by ISIS, shot 14 people at a holiday party.
It’s the type of “homegrown extremism” that the president believes the nation should address.
“One of the biggest challenges we’re going to have,” Obama said, “is this type of propaganda and perversion of Islam that you see generated on the internet and the capacity for that to seep into the minds of troubled individuals … and seeing them, then, motivated to take actions against people here in the United States and elsewhere in the world that are tragic.”
While ISIS did claim responsibility for the act, the move is indicative of a larger issue at hand; the homegrown terrorists who, without direct operational support from the group, are inspired to carry out attacks in the U.S.
The claims underline a pattern in which ISIS seeks to inspire sympathizers to carry out attacks — with or without operational support from the group — and then claims responsibility for the carnage after the fact. In such plots, the connection to ISIS as a central organization may exist only in the attacker’s mind, but the resulting violence is no less lethal.
Declarations of allegiance to ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have been a hallmark of past attacks by jihadist sympathizers, including the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting in December. One of the two shooters in the Garland, Texas, shooting in May 2015 indicated support for ISIS in a post on Twitter just before the attack.
But while authorities investigate the role ISIS played in the attack, Obama urged America not to forget the relevancy of the incident occurring at a club meant to be a safe haven for the LGBTQ community.
“It is a reminder that regardless of race, religion, faith, or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times,” he said.
The president, careful not to malign the Islamic community, also took pains to make sure the attack wasn’t identified as Islamic extremism, instead saying the shooter was influenced by “extremist ideology.”
Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have said that they don’t use terms like “Islamic extremism” or “radical Islam” because they believe doing so would grant undeserved religious legitimacy to terrorist movements such as the Islamic State. Citing Islam as a factor risks framing counterterrorism as a war between the West and Islam, they have said.
An investigation continues.