FBI chief de­fends han­dling of ter­ror­ist in Or­lando at­tack

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey said the man who killed 49 peo­ple in an LGBT night­club in Or­lando, Florida, was clearly “rad­i­cal­ized” and de­fended the bureau’s work in­ves­ti­gat­ing 29-year-old Omar Ma­teen, say­ing he does not think agents should have done any­thing dif­fer­ently.

Dur­ing a brief­ing at FBI head­quar­ters, Mr. Comey de­scribed his agency’s first con­tact with Ma­teen, who died in a gun­bat­tle with po­lice. He said a 10-month pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion was trig­gered when Ma­teen told co-work­ers at a pri­vate se­cu­rity firm that he had fam­ily con­nec­tions to al Qaeda and had mu­tual ac­quain­tances with Tamer­lan and Dzhokhar Tsar­naev, the Bos­ton Marathon bombers.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ini­tially au­tho­rized for six months and later ex­tended for an ad­di­tional four months, in­cluded use of con­fi­den­tial sources who en­gaged Ma­teen, though Mr. Comey de­clined to de­scribe their spe­cific in­ter­ac­tions. FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors did in­ter­view Ma­teen and re­viewed his com­mu­ni­ca­tions and travel he made to Saudi Ara­bia sev­eral years prior.

Mr. Comey said Ma­teen ad­mit­ted to mak­ing the state­ments to co-work­ers but said he did so “in anger, be­cause he thought his co-work­ers were dis­crim­i­nat­ing against him and teas­ing him be­cause he was Mus­lim.”

Ma­teen was placed on a watch list. Mr. Comey de­clined to spec­ify whether it was a no-fly list or the Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Database.

Dur­ing the 10 months the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was ac­tive in 2013, the FBI would have been no­ti­fied if Ma­teen had sought to pur­chase a firearm, said Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Sally Yates.

But Ma­teen was re­moved from the watch list shortly af­ter the clo­sure of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, so his le­gal pur­chase this month of two firearms raised no alarms. The owner of the gun store said Ma­teen passed a full back­ground check in June.

“Cer­tainly in ret­ro­spect in this case, we would have liked to have known about it,” Ms. Yates said of the firearms pur­chase.

Asked whether she thought pol­icy should be changed to al­low flag­ging of sus­pects who pur­chase firearms af­ter they have been dropped from watch lists, Ms. Yates said it was a de­ter­mi­na­tion that would take a “longer and more thought­ful look.”

Sev­eral months af­ter the clo­sure of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in March 2014, Ma­teen was on the FBI’s radar again — this time af­ter his name was brought up as law en­force­ment of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gated a sui­cide bomber from Florida and of­fi­cials learned that Ma­teen had at­tended the same mosque as the bomber.

“Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion turned up no ties of any con­se­quence be­tween the two of them,” Mr. Comey said.

As part of the 2014 probe, which Mr. Comey said did not amount to a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Ma­teen, agents were told by some­one who knew Ma­teen that they had con­cerns about him rad­i­cal­iz­ing. They said he had watched An­war al-Awlaki videos. But the per­son told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Ma­teen had since mar­ried and had a child and he no longer con­sid­ered Ma­teen a pos­si­ble threat.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are look­ing into Ma­teen’s mo­ti­va­tions, ide­o­log­i­cal align­ments and ac­tions ahead of the deadly at­tack, which also wounded 53 oth­ers.

The gun­man, who wielded an AR-15 semi-au­to­matic ri­fle and a hand­gun, spoke with a 911 three times while holed up in­side the night­club with hostages, pledg­ing al­le­giance to the leader of the Is­lamic State. But he also “ap­peared to claim sol­i­dar­ity” with the broth­ers who bombed the Bos­ton Marathon — re­fer­ring them as his “home­boys” — and a sui­cide bomber who acted on be­half of the Nusra Front, a group at odds with the Is­lamic State, of­fi­cials said. The con­tra­dic­tory al­le­giances seemed to in­di­cate that Ma­teen was not of­fi­cially aligned with any one ter­ror­ist group and mud­dled his mo­tive for the at­tack.

“So far, we see no in­di­ca­tion that this was a plot di­rected from out­side the United States and we see no in­di­ca­tion that he was part of any kind of net­work,” Mr. Comey said, adding that in­ves­ti­ga­tors are still work­ing to un­der­stand the role that big­otry may have played in mo­ti­vat­ing the at­tack on the LGBT night­club.

At the White House, Pres­i­dent Obama called the at­tack an ap­par­ent ex­am­ple of “home­grown ex­trem­ism.”

More de­tails of the blood­bath emerged. Or­lando Po­lice Chief John Mina said Ma­teen was “cool and calm” dur­ing phone calls with po­lice ne­go­tia­tors. The chief said he sent in the SWAT team to bash through a wall af­ter Ma­teen holed up with hostages in a bath­room and be­gan to talk about bombs and an ex­plo­sives vest.

“We knew there would be an im­mi­nent loss of life,” Chief Mina said. As it turned out, Ma­teen had no ex­plo­sives with him.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FBI Direc­tor James Comey said a 10month pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion was trig­gered when Omar Ma­teen told co­work­ers that he had fam­ily con­nec­tions to al Qaeda and had mu­tual ac­quain­tances with the Bos­ton Marathon bombers.

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