A man armed with an assault rifle killed 50 people at a packed gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday in the worst mass shooting in US history, prompting authorities to launch a terror investigation.
The shooter was identified as Omar Mateen, 29, a Florida resident and US citizen who was the son of immigrants from Afghanistan.
Law enforcement officials were probing evidence that suggested the attack may have been inspired by Islamic State (IS) militants, although they cautioned there was no proof that Mateen had worked directly with the group, Reuters reported.
“It has been reported that Mateen made calls to 911 this morning in which he stated his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State,” Ronald Hopper, the FBI’s assistant special agent in charge on the case, was quoted as saying.
Shots rang out at the crowded nightclub as some 350 people had packed in during celebrations of gay pride week.
Armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Mateen is said to have sprayed the helpless crowd with bullets before he was shot dead in a police operation.
Fifty-three people were wounded in the rampage. It was the deadliest single US mass shooting incident, eclipsing the 2007 massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech university.
“We know enough to say this was an act of terror, an act of hate,” Obama said in a speech from the White House.
“As Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage and in resolve to defend our people.”
US officials cautioned, however, that they had no conclusive evidence of any direct connection with IS or any other foreign extremist group.
So far as we know at this time, his first direct contact was a pledge of bayat (loyalty) he made during the massacre,” said a US counterterrorism official. “This guy appears to have been pretty screwed up without any help from anybody.”
The shooting evolved into a hostage situation, which a team of SWAT officers ended around dawn when they used armored cars to storm the club before shooting dead the gunman.
The attack came six months after a married couple in California fatally shot 14 people in San Bernardino in an attack inspired by Islamic State.
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