On June 11th, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a U.S. national born to Afghani parents, opened fire on a crowd of people inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Orlando police say that the Mateen carried an AR-15 rifle, which he used to kill 49 people and wound 53 inside the gay discotheque. A SWAT team reportedly swarmed the club, forcing Mateen to retreat to the bathroom, where he took hostages while talking to police on the phone. While speaking with police, Mateen pledged Bayat, allegiance to the Islamic State; Mateen was subsequently killed in a shootout with police.
While Mateen’s father Sadeeq expressed his condolences, he repeatedly denied his son’s connection to the Islamic State, claiming that it was not a genuine pledge of support, and his son only claimed the allegiance to “boast of himself”. Sadeeq’s own opinions on militant groups have been the subject of questioning, as he once expressed gratitude toward the Taliban reguarding their fight over the controversial Durand Line on his YouTube channel, which reports on Afghan politics.
But perhaps most interesting is Mateen’s ties to pro-jihadist clerics. According to a law enforcement source, Mateen was a follower of Marcus Dwayne Robertson, known to his followers as Abu Taubah; the shooter was reportedly enrolled in the cleric’s online Fundamental Islamic Seminary, in which Robertson repeatedly preached hatred towards the west, specifically against homosexuals. Robertson, a former marine turned bank robber, was jailed for four years on weapons charges and tax fraud relating to lying on tax returns about his sending an associate to Mauritania for terror training. Robertson had a long history of association with jihadist efforts, having served as a bodyguard to “The Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman. Rahman was the leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the group that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center attack and would later join with Al Qaeda.
Prosecutors sought to add 10 years to Robertson’s sentence for terror charges, but the judge denied the request and Robertson was released in 2015.
Mateen’s connection to jihadi clerics was not limited to Robertson, Mateen was seen at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce two days before the attack, where he reportedly regularly attended prayers. Monar Abu Salha, an associate of Mateen’s who committed a suicide bombing in Syria on behalf of Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch Al Nusra Front also frequented the Islamic Center. The FBI interviewed Mateen about his connection with Abu Salha in 2014, after one witness brought up Mateen’s name when asked if they knew anyone who might be radicalizing.
That was not the only contact that Mateen had with the FBI; the jihadist was reportedly on an FBI watch list due to suspected connections to the Islamic State. In fact, the 29 year old had reportedly been under federal investigation since 2013. During this time, he allegedly praised the Islamic State to co-workers.
Not only did Mateen publicly praise IS under the FBI’s nose, he indirectly worked for the U.S government. Mateen was an employee at G4S Secure Solutions, a private security company that holds government contracts. Despite the fact that Mateen was being followed by the FBI and openly spoke about his support for jihad and Islamic terror groups, he continued to be employed by the security contractor.
Mateen’s successful terror attack once again raises questions about the success of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Like many other successful attacks, Mateen was a “known quantity” to law enforcement, but no proactive steps were taken to prevent an attack. While watchlisting efforts have produced questionable results, Law enforcement has had success utilizing techniques such as Sting operations and the placing of informants, legal investigative techniques which allow law enforcement to catch would-be jihadists in the act, but which are aggressively opposed by Islamic political pressure groups, which claim that the tactics “unfairly target Muslim-Americans at their places of worship”.
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