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FBI director defends agency’s prior investigations into Orlando shooter’s activities, claims suspect worked alone

Omar Mateen also pledged allegiance to opposing extremist factions at the same time.


Aaron Sankin


Published Jun 13, 2016   Updated May 26, 2021, 3:09 pm CDT

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, FBI Director James Comey asserted that Omar Mateen, the terrorist who carried out the deadly shooting inside of a gay nightclub in Orlando over the weekend was likely working alone and not in direct coordination with a larger terrorist network.  

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Comey said that, while the government is in the process of reviewing its prior investigations into the shooter’s history, he did not believe that agency officials had done anything wrong.

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“We are going through the killer’s life, especially his electronics,” Comey told assembled reporters. “So far we see no indication this was a plot directed from outside the United States… [and was not] a part of any terrorist network.”

“We are highly confident that the killer was radicalized, in some part, through the internet,” he continued.

Comey said that Mateen spoke with 911 operators three times during his three hour siege of Pulse, one of Orlando’s most popular LGBT clubs, during which 50 people were killed and another 53 were injured. During the calls, he claimed that he was carrying out the attack in solidarity with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and said he was a member of the  Syrian anti-government militia the Al-Nusra Front.

Comey noted that ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front are fighting each other directly, suggesting some inconsistencies with Mateen’s grasp of radical Islamist politics.

The FBI director said that the agency looked into Mateen in connection with terrorism twice in the past, but chalked the investigation in both instances. The first contact occurred in 2013, when Mateen was working as a security guard. His coworkers told law enforcement officials that they became concerned when he told him he was a supporter of ISIS and a member of Hezbollah—two groups that are also fighting each other.

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The FBI spent nearly investigating Mateen, recording his conversations, following him around, and interviewing him twice. Mateen admitted to making the statements to his coworkers, but said he made the comments in response to what he viewed as anti-Muslim discrimination. Comey added that Mateen was looked into again when his name came up in conjunction with an investigation into a suicide bomber who hailed from Florida.

In both cases, officials found nothing of note and called off the investigations. While Comey said that all of the agency’s work in the case is in the process of  being thoroughly reviewed, he asserted that everyone involved followed the correct procedure.

“I don’t see anything in reviewing our work that our agents should have done different,” he said. “Our work is very challenging, we’re called on looking for needles in a nation-sized haystack. But we’re also responsible for finding hay that will eventually become needles.”

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*First Published: Jun 13, 2016, 1:27 pm CDT