A gunman who may have pledged allegiance to ISIS opened fire early Sunday morning in a packed Orlando nightclub, killing 50 people and wounding at least 53 more in a bloody scene that ended hours later when police stormed the building and killed the shooter.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack Sunday afternoon via its Amaq news agency, Reuters reported. Amaq said an “Islamic State fighter” carried out the assault. It was not clear, however, if the shooting was actually directed by the terror group or only inspired by it.
The attack in Orlando at Pulse, which bills itself as “the hottest gay bar” in the city and was packed with more than 300 people for “Latin Night,” was reported minutes after 2 a.m. Sunday. In addition to those killed inside the club, at least 53 people were taken to area hospitals.
Dozens of partygoers remained hostage in the club for several hours after the initial shooting, prompting SWAT teams to rush inside. Shortly after 6 a.m. local time, Orlando police tweeted that the gunman had been killed. Authorities said there was not believed to be any further threat to the area.
“We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” President Obama said in a speech from the White House, cautioning that it was still early in the investigation.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff said in a statement that the timing and location of the attack and information coming from local authorities indicated “an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism.”
“The fact that this shooting took place during Ramadan and that ISIS leadership in Raqqa has been urging attacks during this time, that the target was an LGBT night club during Pride, and – if accurate – that according to local law enforcement the shooter declared his allegiance to ISIS, indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism,” Schiff said. “Whether this attack was also ISIS-directed, remains to be determined. I’m confident that we will know much more in the coming hours and days.”
The gunman, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, was heard shouting “Allah Akbar” while engaging officers, law enforcement sources told Fox News.
Mateen was a U.S. citizen, Rep. Alan Grayson said during a Sunday morning news conference, though that was “not true of other family members of his.” Mateen, 29, lived in Fort Pierce, Fla. He was born in New York to parents of Afghan origin and was a Muslim, Fox News confirmed.
Mateen was married in 2009 to a woman who was born in Uzbekistan, according to the couple’s marriage license, but the two divorced in 2011.
“He was not a stable person,” the ex-wife, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
A mortgage form from 2013 lists Noor Salman as his wife and Mateen also had a 3-year-old son. Mateen appears to have had no criminal record.
A licensed security officer, Mateen also had a Statewide Firearms License, Fox News reported.
Law enforcement sources close to the investigation told Fox News that Mateen was known to authorities as recently as 2013, but was not under investigation.
These sources could not elaborate on why Mateen was on the U.S. government’s radar.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper said the investigation was looking into possible threats made previously by the suspect in connection to radical Islam groups.
The FBI was scouring Mateen’s cellphone and electronic devices on Sunday afternoon to identify any possible terrorist connections. This includes searching for any traces of propaganda, scrubbing of his web browsing history, and running down communications with individuals via social media and mobile messaging apps.
As victims poured through their doors, Orlando Regional Medical Center officials called in six trauma surgeons, including a pediatric surgeon, Dr. Michael Cheatham said. Many of the wounded were “critically ill” due to their injuries, Cheatham said, and the hospital was trying to reach out to their families.
“I think we will see the death toll rise,” Cheatham told The Associated Press.