By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Slaying of 50 people in night club puts focus on shooter's link to Islamic State.
US ANTI-TERROR strategy came under fresh scrutiny after a gunman previously cleared of jihadist ties launched a hate-fuelled rampage in a gay club in Florida that left 50 people dead.
As the worst mass shooting in modern US history erupted on Sunday, Orlando police blasted their way into the Pulse nightspot and shot the attacker dead.
The murderous assault triggered grief but also defiance in the gay and lesbian community, and more than 100,000 marched in a planned Los Angeles Gay Pride parade.
In New York, the Tony Awards for musical theatre went ahead as planned but were dedicated to the victims of the massacre.
“We know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” President Barack Obama said, as the FBI investigated the shooter.
Prominent US Muslim figures, Pope Francis and world leaders condemned the attack, which is being treated as the worst act of terror on US soil since September 11, 2001.
The FBI admitted that 29-year-old Omar Mateen had previously been investigated – but cleared – for ties to a US suicide bomber.
Special Agent Ronald Hopper also said Mateen was reported to have made a 911 call pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group shortly before the massacre.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State group yesterday claimed responsibility for the Orlando shooting that killed 50 people, saying in a radio bulletin that it was carried out by “one of the soldiers of the caliphate”.
“God allowed Omar Mateen, one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America, to carry out an attack entering a crusader gathering in a night club... in Orlando in Florida, killing and wounding more than 100 of them,” a bulletin from Al-Bayan radio said.
Terrified survivors described how the gunman raked clubgoers with bullets, prompting a police SWAT team to storm the venue.
Mateen was born to Afghan parents in New York in 1986 and lived in Port St Lucie, Florida, about a two-hour drive from Orlando.
His father Mir Seddique told NBC News his son may have been motivated by homophobia, insisting: “This had nothing to do with religion.”
The suspect’s ex-wife, who divorced him in 2011, told reporters he had been violently abusive to her but was not especially religious.
But the FBI’s Hopper told reporters Mateen’s behaviour raised red flags well before Sunday’s attack.
In 2013 he was probed by the bureau after making inflammatory comments to co-workers that suggested terrorist ties.
In 2014 he was again questioned by agents investigating his contacts with Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a fellow Floridian. Abusalha became notorious as the first US citizen |to carry out a suicide bombing in Syria, and was reportedly a member of an Al-Qaeda affiliate.
“We determined the contact was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or a threat at that time,” Hopper said.
The Orlando atrocity came at the height of what is already a heated US presidential election campaign, and the main candidates were quick to react. Democratic flag-bearer Hillary Clinton postponed a joint campaign rally with Obama and tweeted that her “thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act”.
Her Republican rival Donald Trump lost no time in claiming the attack proved he was right to promise a ban on Muslims entering the US. Trump demanded Obama resign for failing to publicly blame the massacre on “radical Islam”, and vowed to make a speech on security policy yesterday.
“If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore,” Trump declared.