The man responsible for what is now the biggest shooting massacre in the United States, Omar Mateen, had been investigated by the FBI in recent years according to the Los Angeles Daily News. The attack on the gay club, Pulse, is a prime example of how potential threats are slipping through the FBI’s huge counter-terrorism dragnet. Although it is still unclear as to his motivation for the attack, be it ISIS, homophobia, or something else, the FBI’s prevention program was established to target individuals like him. A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the matter for which Mateen was investigated was “open and closed pretty quickly.”
His father told NBC News that Omar recently got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami and said that may be related to the attack. Mateen was a security guard with G4S. In a 2012 newsletter, the firm identified him as working in West Palm Beach.
“We are shocked and saddened by the tragic event that occurred at the Orlando nightclub. We can confirm that Omar Mateen had been employed with G4S since September 10, 2007. We are cooperating fully with all law enforcement authorities, including the FBI, as they conduct their investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the friends, families and people affected by this unspeakable tragedy,” the company said in a statement.
Mateen had connections to homes in Martin and St. Lucie counties, and would have fallen under the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Miami office, which has one of the most dynamic and aggressive counter-terrorism units in the Bureau. Thanks to them, prosecutors in Florida’s Southern District have prosecuted dozens on charges linked to terrorism in the last 15 years. They also investigated the Miami-based terrorist cell dubbed the Liberty City Seven, who plotted to blow up Florida Federal buildings and the Willis Tower in Chicago.
For more than a year they have been focusing on a counter-terrorism sting that targeted James Medina, a mentally ill homeless man. He was recorded as he expressed interest in attacking a Jewish community center in conversations with an FBI informer. He did not possess any weapons, and had no contact with or connections to international terrorists. Rick Wallace, a volunteer worker in South Florida, said, “C’mon, man, no terrorist is homeless, who did he not threaten? He was insane.”
According to the FBI’s affidavit, it was the informer, not Medina, who came up with the idea of blaming the attack on ISIS.
Nearly a year prior to Medina’s arrest, another suspected terrorist, 23-year-old Harlem Suarez, described by co-workers as “a little slow,” was arrested by the Miami FBI as a result of an alleged conspiracy to bomb a beach in Key West in support of ISIS. The only evidence brought forward by the FBI was a fake back-pack bomb.
One cannot help but wonder whether the FBI’s focus on men like Medina and Suarez, who are doubtful targets of questionable mental health, prevents agents from identifying and investigating true threats like the man behind the Orlando shooting.
This is not the first case to bring this question to light. In 2011, when the FBI investigated Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, agents didn’t consider him to be a threat, and instead started a nine-month sting operation against Rezwan Ferdaus, who, as in the case of Medina, had neither weapons nor connections to international terrorists. At the time of his arrest, his mental health had declined to the point that he was wearing adult diapers.
[Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack /AP Images]