FBI investigates reports Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jun 14, 2016 21:09 IST
Undated photo from a social media account of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the Pulse gay nighclub in Orlando on Sunday. (Reuters)

The FBI is investigating the possibility of Omar Mateen visiting the nightclub where he killed 49 people multiple times before the massacre and using dating apps for gay men.

Investigators are also looking closely at Mateen’s relatives — especially his father and current wife — to ascertain if they had noticed signs of his radicalisation but failed to speak up. The wife, Noor Zahi Salman, knew, according to some source-based media reports, and tried to talk him out of it.

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in US history, the White House is pushing Congress to legislate “common-sense steps” to curb access to weapons and “make it harder for any individual to get their hands on a weapon of war”.

Mateen, a 29-year-old American of Afghan descent, gunned down dozens using an assault rifle at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, before being killed in a gunfight with a SWAT team.

In 911 calls from the club, Mateen professed allegiance to the Islamic State, the Boston bombers and a fellow Floridian who travelled to Syria to fight for a local affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Investigators believe Mateen was self-radicalised and influenced by multiple individuals and entities with incongruent beliefs and goals, but he was not directed by any outside force.

Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, and former wife Sitora Yusufiy have said he was not religious in the least. The father has claimed Mateen was a homophobe, thus the targeting of the gay club.

An FBI official told NBC news that investigators are reviewing reports and statements by members of Orlando's gay community who said “they recall having seen Mateen at the LGBT club several times”.

Yusufiy has said Mateen might have been gay or had “gay tendencies” but hid that out of shame. According to one report, Mateen’s father called his son gay in front of her.

She has also said Mateen was “bipolar”, a mental disorder, and would beat her. They divorced in 2011. He went on to marry Noor Zahi Salman, his current wife.

But other accounts were more definitive about his sexual orientation. “He's a homosexual and he was trying to pick up men,” Jim Van Horn, a patron of Pulse, told Daily Mail.

“He would walk up to them and put his arm around them or something and maybe try to get them to dance a little bit or something and go over and buy them a drink.”

Ty Smith, another patron, told the Orlando Sentinel he had seen Mateen at the club multiple times. “Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent.”

Kevin West, another Pulse regular, told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen had messaged him multiple times over a dating app for gay men.

Though West knew Mateen by sight, they met for the first time an hour before the son of Afghan immigrants started shooting. West had gone to drop a friend at the club when he saw the shooter crossing the road in a dark cap.

“He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey’, and he turned and said, ‘Hey’, and nodded his head," West told the Times. “I could tell by the eyes.”

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