President Barack Obama told reporters on Monday there is “no direct evidence” that the man suspected of killing 49 people early Sunday at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida was directed to do so by a terrorist network or as part of a larger plot.
Addressing reporters after his national security briefing, Obama said that the man identified as the shooter, Omar Mateen, appeared to be a “homegrown” extremist radicalized online. Mateen, who was born in the United States, allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during a 911 call made during the attack.
“This is being treated as a terrorist investigation,” the President said. “It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet. All those materials are currently being searched, exploited, so we will have a better sense of the pathway that the killer took in making a decision to launch this attack.”
Obama called the massacre at Pulse night club a “devastating attack on all Americans,” particularly those in the LGBT community. Though he said law enforcement officials have not yet identified a firm motivation, anti-gay sentiment almost certainly played a role in the attack.
“What we do know is organizations like ISIL or organizations like al-Qaeda or those who have perverted Islam and created these radical, nihilistic, vicious organizations, one of the groups that they target are gays and lesbians because they believe that they do not abide by their attitudes towards sexuality,” Obama said.
“I’m sure we will find that there are connections regardless of the particular motivations of this killer, there are connections between this vicious, bankrupt ideology and general attitudes towards gays and lesbians, and unfortunately that is—that’s something that the LGBT community is subject to not just by ISIL but by a lot of groups that purport to speak on behalf of God around the world,” he added.
The president said mass shootings like this point to the need for stricter regulations on assault weapons. But he emphasized that we must avoid discussing gun control and terrorist attacks in “either/or” terms.
“It’s not an either/or,” Obama said. “It’s a both/and. We have to go after these terrorism organizations and hit him hard. We have to counter extremism, but we also have to make sure it’s not easy for somebody who decides they want to harm people in this country to be able to obtain weapons to get them.”
Mateen purchased both the Glock handgun and the AR-15 rifle he used in the shootings legally because he had no criminal history, even though the FBI had interviewed him about possible terror links.