- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2016

The Islamic State issued a second claim of responsibility in two days for the carnage that killed 49 people at gay nightclub in Orlando, although investigators were still scrambling Monday night to determine whether the U.S.-born gunman had any connection to the terror group or was just inspired by its message.

Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old former security guard of Afghan descent traveled twice to Saudi Arabia in recent years and told a 911 operator during Sunday’s rampage that he was acting for Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But U.S. officials said there was no clear evidence that Islamic State or other rival jihadi organizations had directed the plot.

The Islamic State’s notoriously sophisticated digital propaganda machine was quick to exploit the situation Monday, even as Mateen, killed in a shootout with Florida police that ended the ordeal, appears to have acted as a “self-radicalized,” lone wolf terrorist.

A day after the Islamic State’s official Amaq News Agency claimed responsibility for the attack online, the group’s main radio station, Al Bayan said Mateen was “one of the soldiers of the Caliphate in America,” according to the SITE Intelligence group, a private outfit that tracks and translates terrorist propaganda.

“He was able to enter into a gathering of Crusaders in a nightclub for followers of the ‘people of Lot’ in Orlando, Florida,” the Mosul, Iraq-based radio said, using religious language to refer to Mateen’s slaughter of mostly gay revelers at the Pulse nightclub. “Allah enabled him to subdue the impure Crusaders, killing and wounding more than a hundred of them before he was killed — may Allah accept him.”

But intelligence officials have yet to directly tie Mateen to the group. Officials said they were still trying to pin down whom the gunman may have met during weeklong visits to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012 — but believe he made the trips to perform umrah, a religious pilgrimage millions of Muslims make to holy city of Mecca during Ramadan.

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FBI Director James Comey said there was “no indication that this was a plot directed from outside the United States, and we see no indication that [Mateen] was part of any kind of network.”

Mr. Comey said it wasn’t even entirely clear what group Mateen aspired to support because, prior to Sunday morning’s 911 call, he was known to have once told co-workers he belonged to Hezbollah, a Shiite group that’s a bitter enemy of the Sunni extremist Islamic State.

The FBI director said a 2014 bureau probe into Mateen’s ties to another Florida man who was found at the time to have carried out a suicide bombing for al Qaeda in Syria had “turned up no ties of any consequence between the two of them.”

Mateen’s family background has fed speculation about his motive, particularly because of actions by his father, an Afghan believed to have immigrated to the U.S. following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Sedique Mateen has attracted scrutiny for creating dozens of sparsely viewed internet videos over the years, including at least one that some have described as being sympathetic to the militant Taliban movement.

In an interview with The Washington Post from his home in St. Lucie, Florida on Sunday, Mr. Mateen insisted that his son was not motivated by Islamist radical ideology to carry out the Orlando attacks, but “just wanted to boast himself.” The elder Mr. Mateen also posted a video on Facebook Monday in which he said “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told CNN Monday that his government had not yet been contacted by U.S. investigators about any possible link between the U.S.-born Mateen and Afghani terror groups, saying the early possible linkages were “extraordinarily tenuous and weak.”

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S. in a previously scheduled Washington address called for unity and solidarity against terrorism. “We condemn this act of terror and hate,” Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib said during a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, expressing Kabul’s “sincere condolences to the American people.”

Carlo Munoz contributed to this report.

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