Prior to FBI Director James Comey’s briefing on the Orlando shooting, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said that what happened in the city on Sunday morning was “a horrifying act of evil and terror…an attack on who we are as a nation and a people.”
Comey thanked local law enforcement for their actions and bravery that helped save lives. He also extended his gratitude to the doctors, EMTs, nurses, victim specialists, and ordinary Americans who assisted in relief efforts and showed the best part of humanity in the wake of a horrific event.
He reiterated that this is a FBI terrorist investigation. This is because there are strong indications of radicalization, including possible inspiration from foreign terrorist organizations.
Comey reiterated that the Justice Department is working as fast as they can to understand the motives and aspects of the Orlando shooter’s life. He also went out of his way to not use the killer’s name, not wanting to give him fame or glory for the sake of the victims and their families. He also wanted to not inspire any other twisted copycats who might think this sort of heinous violence could be a path to national attention.
The FBI is going through the electronics of the killer to understand his path, and to see if anyone else was involved in the execution of this attack. As far as we know, this plot was not directed from outside the United States, and there’s no indication that he was part of any other network.
The Orlando shooter made 911 calls from inside the Pulse nightclub. Comey added that they began around 2:30 a.m. He called and then hung up. He called again spoke briefly with the dispatcher—and then hung up. During the last call, the dispatcher spoke briefly with the killer, and then hung up again.
Comey said we have no clue what network he planned on supporting, though he did pledge allegiance to the head of the Islamic State, declared solidarity with the bombers of the Boston Marathon bombing, and Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha. In 2014, the American-born Abu-Salha executed a suicide bombing in Syria. It was done as part of an action in support of the Al-Nusra Front, which is an al-Qaeda affiliated group in conflict with ISIS.
Comey added that they’re working to understand what role anti-gay bigotry played in this attack as well.
“We are highly confident this killer was radicalized and at least in some part through the Internet," he said.
In May of 2013, he became an interest of the FBI while working as a contract security guard for a local courthouse. He made inflammatory remarks that alerted his co-workers, including claims of family ties to al-Qaeda—and said he was a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization. An 11-month investigation followed that ended with no conclusive results.
In 2014, the killer appeared on the FBI’s radar again while investigating Abu-Salha. He allegedly attended the same mosque as Abu-Salha and was reportedly watching videos of former al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, who we killed in a drone strike in 2011. Again, nothing conclusive was found to warrant further inquiry into the killer, there were no connections between the two men, and the focus was re-focused onto the Abu-Salha.
Comey said that during the first investigation into Mateen, he said, “He hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself.” Mateen later said such inflammatory remarks were said in anger, and thought that his co-workers were discriminating against him due to his Muslim faith.
The FBI director said the federal law enforcement agency will look hard at our own work to see if there was anything we could’ve done differently. At this time, Comey says he doesn’t think there was anything the FBI could have done differently in the wake of this shooting.
“Our work is very challenging, we're looking for needles in a nation wide hay stack,” he said. Comey added that the FBI would be transparent with new findings going forward. He closed by saying that he knows this attack is upsetting to all of America. He hopes that fellow Americans won’t let fear become a disabling factor in their lives.
"We hope our fellow Americans will not allow fear to become disabling...instead, channel that anxiety into an awareness.” That awareness will help agencies tasked with defending the country from these attacks, while also allowing you to live your lives.