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Orlando Shooter Demanded End to U.S. War Against Islamic State

Omar Mateen made demands to police negotiators during a stand-off in the Pulse nightclub, according to newly released transcripts.

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Barricaded in a hostage-filled bathroom at the Pulse nightclub, gunman Omar Mateen delivered a blunt if implausible demand to police negotiators. America, he said, should stop bombing Syria and Iraq.

Authorities said that Mateen identified himself as an Islamic soldier, and then said that forcing an end to the bombing campaign was why he was “out here right now.”

“There is some vehicle outside that has some bombs, just to let you know,” Mateen told police. “You people are gonna get it, and I’m gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid.”

Though police never found any explosive devices, Mateen claimed he had a vest like those “used in France” — an apparent reference to suicide vests used in the November Paris attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more.

These new details of the Orlando police force’s interactions with Mateen come from edited transcripts released by the FBI Monday. They provide the most detailed timeline yet of events inside the gay nightclub in Orlando where Mateen killed 49 people in the deadliest domestic terror attack since 9/11 and the worst mass shooting in American history. They also reveal some of what Mateen told police about his motives.

The material released provides crucial information about the formulation of Mateen’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State. In a 2:35 a.m. 911 call, Mateen told the dispatcher, “I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may God protect him, on behalf of the Islamic State.” 

Groups such as the Islamic State require adherents abroad who carry out violence in their name to pledge allegiance to their leader — and not the group. The Islamic State has encouraged its followers overseas to carry out attacks wherever they are, and to do so following a specified routine in declaring their kinship with the terror group. The wording of Mateen’s pledge to Baghdadi indicates he was familiar with those requirements. That pledge, however, did not use Baghdadi’s full honorific title.

In Monday’s release, the FBI first redacted all of Mateen’s references to the Islamic State militant group and its leader, Baghdadi. “We’re not gonna propagate their rhetoric — their violent rhetoric,” Ron Hopper, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Orlando office, told reporters when asked about the redactions. “We see no value in putting those individuals’ names back out there.” Monday’s release does not mention Mateen by name, and refers to him instead as the “shooter.”

After coming under intense criticism for omitting mention of Baghdadi and the Islamic State, the FBI and the Justice Department later in the day released an unredacted portion of Mateen’s 911 call in which he pledges his allegiance to the Islamic State. 

Key questions remain about Mateen’s motive for carrying out the attack, and Monday’s transcripts come on the heels of reports that the gunman had repeatedly visited Pulse nightclub and that he had used a gay dating app. Asked by reporters at a Monday news conference about Mateen’s sexual orientation, Ron Hopper, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Orlando office, said his agents are investigating the reports.

The FBI declined to release audio files of the phone calls, but Hopper described Mateen’s demeanor during them as “chilling, calm, and deliberate.”

Hopper said that the investigation has revealed no evidence Mateen was directed in his actions by a foreign terror groups, echoing remarks from other senior U.S. intelligence officials. Still, the transcripts released Monday reveal similarities between the Pulse massacre and last November’s Paris attack.

In Paris, the gunmen who stormed the Bataclan nightclub, slaughtered concert goers, and took hostages before dying in a shootout with police demanded that France stop its military campaign in Syria against the Islamic State.

“I want you to leave the country. I want you to remove your military. I want a piece of paper signed that proves it!” one Paris gunman told police, according to the New York Times. Mateen made a similar demand directed at U.S. military action in Syria and Iraq.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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