FBI Director James B. Comey suggested that the Orlando shooter may have not known the difference between groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, or Hezbollah.
In a report by the Washington Post, while speaking to reporters about Omar Mateen’s alleged terrorist ties, Comey made mention that Mateen’s own words about alleged ties to groups were “inflammatory and contradictory.” Some of the shooter’s past statements were also found to be fabricated.
The inquiry into Omar Mateen’s relationship with terrorist organizations has become a major element of the developing story about what pushed him to shoot up an Orlando LGBTQIA night club, killing 49 people and injuring several more, many of them members of Orlando’s Latinx community.
The most touted evidence in favor of Mateen’s ties was the 911 call placed before the shooting in which he not only pledged allegiance to ISIS but stated that his actions were indeed motivated by radical Islam. ISIS, in response, allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack and has commended the actions of their “soldier.” But how accurate is this?
The Washington Post’s coverage adds that Mateen made reference to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, carried out by brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev. MSNBC reports that he even called them his “homeboys” and declared solidarity with them.
Yet, according to the Guardian, any ties between the Orlando shooter and the Tsarnaevs, which the former is alleged to have confirmed to the FBI during related questioning in 2013, have since been deemed fabricated.
In one of his three 911 calls on the night of the shooting, the FBI says that Mateen also declared solidarity with a South Florida man, Moner Mohammed Abusalha, who traveled to Syria and died in a suicide attack in 2014. Mateen claimed to know Abusalha, though FBI questioning in 2014 led to an eventual closing of the case.
The mention of Abusalha’s name raises questions because he went to Syria to fight with al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front). While al-Qaeda is noted for inspiring the Tsarnaev brothers, neither al-Qaeda nor al-Nusra is an ally of ISIS, the former disavowing the Islamic State in 2014.
In the muddied picture of Syria’s civil war, al-Nusra is considered a threat to both ISIS and the military forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While it is no secret that ISIS wishes to export its violence to the United States, was Orlando truly a battleground in their supposed global war?
It has been reported that Mateen had an antagonistic relationship with his co-workers. It has even been mentioned that they teased him about his religion, according to CNN, which resulted in him making statements like his belonging to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite group.
ISIS are adherents to a Sunni doctrine taken to an extremist end, while Hezbollah supports the Syrian government which places it in opposition to ISIS and al-Qaeda.
While the CNN report also notes that the Orlando shooter consumed “a hell of a lot of jihadist propaganda,” the likelihood of any direct ISIS ties seems uncertain given the groups which Mateen claimed sympathy for or active membership in. Given the broad range of statements, Comey concludes that there is no evidence of a specific plot enacted by ISIS or any other group mentioned by Mateen in recent years.
Also in contention are the shooter’s own religious beliefs and specifically how devout a Muslim Omar Mateen actually was as there seems to be almost no evidence that he harbored radicalized beliefs as statements from his family and ex-wife have suggested according to their knowledge.
The most notable evidence given against a motive rooted in religious extremism comes from his father’s now well-known recollection of a moment in which Mateen witnessed two men kissing one another in Miami.
[Photo by Susan Walsh/AP Images]