Obama meets Orlando massacre survivors, assails ‘home-grown’ terrorism and calls for gun control
US President Barack Obama on Thursday met survivors of a massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub and relatives of the 49 people killed and said the United States must act to control gun violence and fight what he called homegrown terrorism.
“The last two terrorist attacks on our soil - Orlando and San Bernardino - were homegrown,” Obama told reporters, before urging Congress to pass measures to make it harder to legally acquire high-powered weapons like the assault rifle used in the attack on Sunday.
“I’m pleased to hear that the Senate will hold votes on preventing individuals with possible terrorist ties from buying guns,” he said.
Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden arrived in Orlando, Florida, four days after a US-born gunman claiming allegiance to various Islamist militant groups carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
New details emerged on Thursday about the gunman’s activity on Facebook and text messages he sent during the shooting rampage.
Obama said he “held and hugged” grieving family members before laying flowers at a memorial for the victims of the attack on the Pulse nightclub. Police killed the gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, a U.S. citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrants.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but US officials have said they do not believe Mateen was assisted from abroad. CIA Director John Brennan told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday that the agency had “not been able to uncover any direct link” between Mateen and militants abroad.
A married couple also claiming allegiance to Islamic State shot dead 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December.
During his attack, Mateen posted messages on Facebook and called a news station.
One Facebook message, apparently referring to air strikes against Islamic State by the United States and its allies, said: “You kill innocent women and children by doing us air strikes ... now taste the Islamic State vengeance,” according to US Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, who asked Facebook to turn over material from Mateen’s accounts.
Also during the three hours he was holed up in a bathroom inside the nightclub, Mateen exchanged text messages with his wife, Noor Salman, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement official it did not identify. Salman is under investigation to find out whether she knew about Mateen’s plans ahead of time.