ORLANDO – Dozens of bodies were slowly removed from a popular Orlando night club afterÂ Omar Mateen who authorities said had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, sprayed the helpless crowd with bullets in violence that killed 50 people and devastated a city famous for family-friendly theme parks.
Authorities say suspect Omar Mateen emerged, carrying an AR-15 and fired relentlessly – 20 rounds, 40, then 50 and more. In such tight quarters, the bullets could hardly miss. He shot at police. He took hostages.
When the gunfire at the Pulse Orlando club finally stopped, 50 people were dead and dozens critically wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Mateen, who authorities said had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 around the time of the attack, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.
Authorities are wondering if it was an act of terrorism and are probing the background of Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen from Fort Pierce, Florida, who had worked as a security guard. The gunman’s father recalled that his son recently got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami and said that might be related to the assault.
The Islamic State’s radio called Mateen “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America.” Al-Bayan Radio, a media outlet for the IS extremist group, on Monday hailed the attack, saying it targeted a gathering of Christians and gays and that it’s the worst attack on U.S. soil since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The broadcast is apparently an opportunistic statement as IS has not officially claimed responsibility for the Orlando attack.
Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and 11 people died at hospitals, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
At least 53 people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.
The previous deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people before killing himself.
Mateen’s family was from Afghanistan, and he was born in New York. His family later moved to Florida, authorities said.
A law enforcement official said the gunman made a 911 call from the club in which he professed allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The official was familiar with the investigation, but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The extremist group did not officially claim responsibility for the attack, but the IS-run Aamaq news agency cited an unnamed source as saying the attack was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.
Even if the attacker supported IS, it was unclear whether the group planned or knew of the attack beforehand.
Mateen was not unknown to law enforcement: In 2013, he made inflammatory comments to co-workers and was interviewed twice, according to FBI agent Ronald Hopper, who called the interviews inconclusive. In 2014, Hopper said, officials found that Mateen had ties to an American suicide bomber, but the agent described the contact as minimal, saying it did not constitute a threat at the time.
Asked if the gunman had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, Hopper said authorities had “suggestions that individual has leanings towards that.”
Mateen purchased at least two firearms legally within the last week or so, according to Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
President Barack Obama called the shooting an “act of terror” and an “act of hate” targeting a place of “solidarity and empowerment” for gays and lesbians. He urged Americans to decide whether this is the kind of “country we want to be.”
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington, Terrance Harris, Mike Schneider and Tamara Lush in Orlando and photographer Alan Diaz in Fort Pierce, Florida, contributed to this report.
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