US intelligence misses cues to terror – again
Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the suicide bomber who was the Orlando killer's buddy
Omar Mateen, a US Muslim citizen aged 29, son of Afghan migrants, perpetrated the deadliest shooting attack in American history on June 12, when he massacred 50 people and injured 53 at the Pulse gay club in Orlando, Florida, with an AR 15 assault rifle and a Glock 17 handgun.
The guns were purchased legally a few days earlier at a local shop. This alone ought to have alerted the various US intelligence and surveillance agencies responsible for countering terrorism – except that, for lack of coordination, they missed the fact that a man twice questioned by the FBI was suddenly loading up on deadly weapons.
Mateen fit the profile of an Islamic terrorist, whose attributes the incumbent US administration consistently refuses to acknowledge: He was a Muslim, whose Afghan immigrant father is a Taliban supporter; a religious extremist, who recently made the pilgrimage to Mecca; he was divorced, known for violence, and licensed as a security officer to carry a gun.
The Orlando killer had long been overdue for close monitoring – or least a flag to prevent him from working as a security officer or carrying arms.
In 2013-14, the FBI interviewed him after he made "inflammatory remarks" to a colleague, before closing its investigation.
In 2014, the FBI hauled him in again over a connection with Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a 22-year old Palestinian American. They had grown up together at the small Florida coastal town of Fort Pierce. Abu Salha went off to Syria, joined the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and killed himself in a suicide attack by driving a massive truck bomb into a restaurant filled with Syrian government soldiers.
Yet the FBI against closed the file on Mateen after determining that the links between the two young Muslims did not warrant a full-dress inquiry.
Compiling all the known data on the Orlando killer with the results of the FBI interviews with him would have placed him high on the list of suspects and called in for further questioning.
The oversights of US law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies recur each time Islamist terrorists strike. The Ramadan 2016 attack in Orlando showed that no lessons had been learned from the lapses that led to 9/11.
The FBI erred gravely in closing the case over the Mateen connection with the Palestinian American suicide bomber. This explains why senior FBI officials are down-playing the importance of that connection.
When he was exculpated, the federal authorities also discontinued electronic surveillance of the terrorist’s movements. So they missed his mounting extremism, his frequent attendance at a mosque led by a radical imam, who regularly incited his flock to murder (“Gays must die”). He thus kept his Security Officer’s ID which gave him access to secure government sites. His name was kept on the list of licensees for carrying firearms.
It is especially hard to understand the lackadaisical handling by federal agents of this prime suspect when the FBI Director James Comey was reiterating: “The Islamic State remains the top threat America is facing.”
Before entering the Pulse night club with the intent to slaughter those partying inside, Mateen called 911 and swore allegiance to the leader of the ‘Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and recalled Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, the brothers responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon terror attack.
For 20 minutes, the dispatchers did not understand what he was saying and lost the chance to triangulate his cellular phone’s location and send police to nab him.
At the door of the club, he got into a brief exchange of fire with policeman before going in. Mateen went from room to room, firing well aimed semi-automatic rounds, killing tens of people, wounding tens more, and rounding up 30 people as hostages. He knew enough from his experience as a security guard to lock them in the restrooms which had no windows.
Long before the police, the city hall or any other official entity came to their senses, the club’s management sent a message via social networks: 'Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.'
For three precious hours, dozens of police cars and ambulances, with FBI agents, dog handlers, special bomb disposal units, and other security officials huddled outside the club without doing anything. During those hours only a few shots sounded and many of those wounded lost their lives from blood loss and lack of medical treatment.
Only at 5 am, did the special anti-terror unit enter the scene, with one team using small detonators and firing at the terrorist to distract him, while a force of 9 officers blew up the opposite wall and broke a hole through which they could enter, fire and kill the terrorist. This entire event took 4 minutes.
Despite the three-hour wait, not enough ambulances had reached the scene, and some of the casualties had to be driven in civilian vehicles.
Mateen committed his murderous assault on the 300 partygoers at the Pulse club with ease, due to a number of factors:
- US law enforcement agencies have shown inexplicable tolerance toward Islamist extremists to the point that the Orlando killer was free to purchase an unlimited amount of deadly weapons.
- Due to lack of coordination between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, this killer was able to gain employment with a firm that trains its personnel in the use of firearms.
- As soon as the local police were alerted to gunfire at the door of the club, they should have swarmed in to neutralize the killer. The three-hour wait for the SWAT team’s arrival betokened weakness and an unwillingness to fight, so leaving the horrendous event in the hands of the terrorist.
- Pinning the dreadful episode on lack of gun control avoids the issue. Terrorists will always find murder weapons – if not guns, then homemade bombs like the Boston Marathon brothers, kitchen knives or vehicles. Even in countries with strict gun control, there is always a black market.