FBI Defends Failure to Act Against Fla. Shooter

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Offering new details Monday on the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, FBI director James Comey defended the bureau’s handling of Omar Mateen in the leadup to this weekend’s massacre at a gay Florida nightclub.
     Mateen killed 49 and injured 53 in a predawn dawn attack Sunday on the club Pulse in Orlando. The carnage ended with Mateen’s own death after a police shootout.
     Comey said investigators have turned up no indication that someone outside the U.S. directed the shooter, or that he belonged to a network of any kind.
     Though Comey refused to name Mateen, to deprive him of fame or glory, he said the agency believes the shooter adopted a radicalized form Islam in part through the internet, and potentially took inspiration from foreign terrorist organizations.
     “We are spending a tremendous amount of time, as you can imagine, trying to understand every moment of this killer’s path to that terrible night in Orlando. To understand his motives and to understand the details of his life,” Comey said.
     The agency is currently combing through his electronics to determine if anyone else directed or assisted him, and if anti-gay bigotry motivated him, Comey said.
     But Comey noted murky and confusing details in terms of which terror group the shooter wanted to support during three 911 calls made at the time of the attack.
     “During the calls he said he was doing this for the leader of ISIL, who he named and pledged loyalty to. But he also appeared to claim solidarity with the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing and solidarity with a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria for al-Nusra front, a group in conflict with the so-called Islamic State,” Comey said, noting that ISIL, or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, did not inspire the latter two attacks.
     The FBI twice investigated the Orlando shooter, the second time in relation to the Florida suicide bomber, Moner Mohammed Abu Salha, who carried out a suicide mission in Syria for al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra.
     Comey says the two attended the same Florida mosque and knew each other casually.
     During that investigation, a witness expressed concern about the Orlando shooter because he had mentioned the videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam who joined al-Qaida and became an operational leader of the group’s Arabian Peninsula affiliate.
     The U.S. killed al-Awlaki and later his 16-year old son in separate drone strikes in Yemen in 2011. Al-Awlaki has served as an influential figure in major terrorist attacks and plots since 9/11.
     However, after the Orlando shooter started a family and got a job, Comey says the witness was no longer concerned about the Orlando shooter.
     “Our investigation turned up no ties of any consequence between the two of them,” Comey said, after which the investigation focused solely on Salha.     
     Comey said the FBI first investigated the Orlando shooter in May, 2013 when he worked as a contracted security guard at a local court house. He apparently told co-workers he had family ties to al-Qaida, a Sunni group, but later said he was a member of the Shiite Hezbollah group, which has fought against ISIL to defend Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria.
     The shooter also apparently told coworkers he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so he could become a martyr.
     After becoming aware of the comments, the Miami office opened a preliminary investigation into the shooter to determine if he was a terrorist, Comey said.
     “Our investigation involved introducing confidential sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing transactional records from his communications and searching all government holdings for any possible connections, any possible derogatory information,” Comey said.
     The agency interviewed him twice, and Comey said he admitted to making the inflammatory comments to his coworkers, which the shooter apparently said he made out of anger from perceived discrimination against him for being Muslim.
     “After 10 months of investigation, we closed the preliminary investigation,” Comey said.
     Comey noted that the agency will also look at its own work to see if it could have done something differently.
     “So far the honest answer is, I don’t think so,” Comey said. I don’t see anything in reviewing our work that our agents should have done differently but we’ll look at it in an open and honest way and be transparent about it.”
     Hours after Comey’s comments, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the FBI director would be giving House members a classified briefing on the Orlando shooting on Tuesday afternoon. Ryan said the Comey would be joined by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen on the session.

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