The gunman who killed 50 people and injured 53 in a late-night shooting at an Orlando gay club reportedly made “pledge of allegiance to ISIS,” according to reports.
California Rep. Adam Schriff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence told CNN, that Omar Mateen, a U.S. Citizen with no apparent criminal history, had committed himself to ISIS before carrying out the bloodiest mass murder in U.S. history.
“The fact that this shooting took place during Ramadan and that ISIS leadership in Raqqa has been urging attacks during this time, that the target was an LGBT nightclub during (LGBT) Pride (month) and, if accurate, that according to local law enforcement the shooter declared his allegiance to ISIS, indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism,” Schiff said. “Whether this attack was also ISIS-directed, remains to be determined. I’m confident that we will know much more in the coming hours and days.”
Speaking in Washington, President Barack Obama said the shooting at Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando was an “act of terror” and an “act of hate.”
"What is clear is he was a person filled with hatred," Obama said of the alleged shooter.
Obama said this was "an especially heartbreaking day" for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and a sobering reminder that an attack on any American is an attack on all, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
"The shooter targeted a night club where people came together to be with friends to dance and to sing — to live," Obama said. "The place where they were attacked is more than a night club. It was a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights."
Mateen, who was born to Afghan parents in New York in 1986 and was living in Port St. Lucie, Fla., opened fired gay night club that was hosting “Latin Night” early Sunday. He was killed in a shootout with SWAT team members.
Authorities say he may have had a connection with radical Islamic terrorism, and his father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News that his son became angry a couple of months ago when he saw two gay men kissing.
"We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident," Seddique said. "We are in shock like the whole country."
Mateen's father said the attack had nothing to do with religion, he said.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene when the gunfire began shortly before the club known as Pulse was to close.
"Some guy walked in and started shooting everybody. He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance," said Jackie Smith, who had two friends next to her get shot. "I just tried to get out of there."
The suspect exchanged gunfire with a police officer working at the club, which had more than 300 people inside. The gunman then went back inside and took hostages, Police Chief John Mina said.
Around 5 a.m., authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the hostages.
Authorities were looking into whether the attack was an act of domestic or international terror, and if the shooter acted alone, according to Danny Banks, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"This is an incident, as I see it, that we certainly classify as domestic terror incident," Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
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.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida denounced the shooting, calling it the “new face of war on terror.”
"They have said openly that they intend to target us here, and one of the hardest parts of this war is the individual who carries out an attack by themselves in a soft target like this, basically, in Orlando, Florida," Rubio said in a phone interview with CNN.
“And it's a reminder that the war on terror has evolved into something we've never had to confront before -- individuals capable of conducting these sorts of massacres unexpectedly in places that you normally wouldn't associate with the kinds of attacks that you see.”
FBI agent Ron Hopper said there was no further threat to Orlando or the surrounding area.
When asked if the gunman had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, Hopper said authorities had "suggestions that individual has leanings towards that."
A woman who was outside the club early Sunday was trying to contact her 30-year-old son, Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a bathroom with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: "He's coming."
"The next text said: 'He has us, and he's in here with us,'" Mina Justice said. "That was the last conversation."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says a heavily armed man arrested in Southern California told police he was in the area for West Hollywood's gay pride parade.
Garcetti announced the arrest Sunday while attending the LA Pride kickoff. Police in Santa Monica planned a news conference to discuss the arrest.
Authorities did not know of any connection between the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday and the Santa Monica arrest.
The Vatican says Pope Francis is expressing the "deepest feelings of horror and condemnation" over a massacre at a Florida nightclub that killed at least 50 people.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says the pontiff denounces the "homicidal folly and senseless hatred."
"Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort,” the statement said. “We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.