Orlando police and the FBI updated the media on the background behind Orlando shooter Omar Mateen and his possible connections to ISIS. As it turns out, Mateen had been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013 and the had spoken to him twice with little indication that he would commit such a horrible act.
According to the latest press conference, the two interviews stemmed from different incidents over the years:
Hooper says the shooter in 2013 made inflammatory comments to co-workers , and that Mateen was interviewed twice. Hooper calls those interviews inconclusive.
In 2014, Hooper says, officials found that Mateen had ties to an American suicide bomber. Hooper describes the contact as minimal; it did not constitute a threat at that time.
Authorities also added that Mateen had purchased the firearms used in the shooting within the past week and that the 911 calls made by Mateen have been taken as federal evidence at this point. His connection to the American suicide bomber is interesting, if only because such high profile terrorists had some connection inside of America.
Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha was highlighted in the media during the summer of 2014 when his Martyrdom video was publicized and his travels between Syria and the United States became clear:
In the video, Abu-Salha is shown tearing up his American passport and then the passport is set on fire. Next he is shown wearing a green camouflage vest and holding an AK-47 rifle delivering a diatribe to the camera directly.
Speaking in a strong American accent, Abu-Salha explicitly appeals to fellow militants in the States and the United Kingdom, saying that coming to fight with al Qaeda was so simple that he arrived in Syria “with only $20 in my pocket.” Abu-Salha explained that “Allah made it easy for me” as he traveled from the States to Turkey and from there crossed over into neighboring Syria.
Abu-Salha paints a grim picture of life in the United States compared with the supposed joys of his life as a holy warrior: “Just sitting down five minutes drinking a cup of tea with mujahedeen (holy warriors) is better than anything I’ve ever experienced in my whole life. I lived in America! I know how it is. You have all the fancy amusement parks, and the restaurants, and the food, and all this crap and the cars and you think you’re happy. You’re not happy, you’re never happy. I was never happy. I was always sad and depressed. Life sucked. … All you do is work 40, 50, 60 hours a week.”
And what’s interesting is how Abu-Salha notes that he knew he was being watched during a visit to Florida in 2013, attempting to recruit friends to travel with him to Syria and claiming a betrayal according to NBC News:
I went back to my home state, which is Florida,” he tells his interviewer, never making eye contact. “I stayed with my friend’s family. And it was no good. The reason I had to stay with them is that the state I was in, I finally realized I was being watched.” He explains that he fled back to his home state “to throw [the FBI] off, to make them think I was somewhere else in the United States.”
The connection with Mateen is clearly limited, with no mentions in the previous reports connected to Abu-Salha. But knowing that Mateen was on the radar at all before this incident, was allowed to legally purchase firearms, and possibly connected to a Al-Queda suicide bomber, you have to wonder what changes will happen or what efforts could’ve been made to change the tragic outcome we’re seeing today.