Orlando shooter told 911 operator he was Islamic soldier
Omar Mateen to emergency dispatcher: 'I let you know, I'm in Orlando and I did the shootings'
Orlando gunman Omar Mateen spoke in Arabic to a 911 dispatcher, identified himself as an Islamic soldier and demanded to a crisis negotiator that the U.S. "stop bombing Syria and Iraq," according to transcripts released by the FBI on Monday.
The partial, printed transcripts were of three conversations Mateen had with the police during the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, in which 49 people died and dozens were wounded.
Those communications, along with Facebook posts Mateen made before and after the shooting, add to the public understanding of the final hours of Mateen's life.
The first call came more than a half hour after shots rang out, when Mateen told a 911 operator, "Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God," he told the dispatcher, referring to God in Arabic.
"I let you know, I'm in Orlando and I did the shootings."
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During the 50-second call with a dispatcher, Mateen "made murderous statements in a "chilling, calm and deliberate manner," said Ronald Hopper, FBI assistant special agent in charge in Orlando.
There is no evidence Mateen was directed by a foreign terrorist group, Hopper said, and he was radicalized on his own.
Mateen's name and the groups and people to whom he pledged allegiance were initially omitted from the excerpt. The Justice Department said in a statement it did this so as not to give extremists "a publicity platform for hateful propaganda."
However, the FBI had previously said Mateen pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. (The extremist group encourages followers who seek to commit violence in its name to make public pledges of support.) The Justice Department reversed course later Monday, providing a more complete transcript of the call and saying the omissions had become an unnecessary distraction.
Shortly after the call, Mateen had three conversations with crisis negotiators in which he identified himself as an Islamic soldier and told a negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. He said that was why he was "out here right now," according to the excerpt.
The transcripts also revealed that Mateen said he had a car rigged with bombs outside and threatened to strap hostages into explosive vests.
"You people are gonna get it, and I'm gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid," Mateen said during one of the 911 calls.
Mateen told the emergency dispatcher he was wearing an explosive vest like the kind they "used in France," apparently referring to the deadly assault in Paris last November by Islamic militants, according to the transcript.
No such vests or improvised explosive devices were found in the nightclub or the suspect's car, however, the FBI said.
Hundreds of calls not released
City officials have refused to provide hundreds of 911 calls to The Associated Press and a coalition of news organizations, citing confidentiality under Florida law and arguing that the ongoing investigation required them to keep the tapes secret. Hopper also said Monday that the tapes would not be released out of respect for the victims.
"Yes, the audio was compelling, but to expose that now would be excruciatingly painful — to exploit them in this way," Hopper said. "Part of redacting is to not give credence to individuals who have done terrorist acts in the past. They are not going to propagate their violent rhetoric."
The AP and others requested the 911 tapes and related data, a common practice after such major events. The recordings could offer insight into how law enforcement responded to the incident.
Also at Monday's news conference, Orlando police Chief John Mina said that if any gunfire from responding officers hit victims at the club, gunman Mateen bears the responsibility. He wouldn't give further details, but said: "Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind." He stressed that the officers "acted heroically."
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Meanwhile, hospital officials said four people remained in critical condition Monday morning, more than a week after they were wounded in the attack.
Orlando Regional Medical Center said 18 victims from the shooting were still at the hospital and three more surgeries were scheduled for Monday. The other 14 patients are listed in stable condition.
Armed with a semi-automatic weapon, Mateen went on a bloody rampage at the Pulse nightclub June 12. He died in a hail of gunfire after police stormed the venue.
"We saved many, many lives that night," Orlando Police Chief John Mina told a news conference near the Pulse nightclub today.
"There was a misconception that we did not do anything for three hours. I'm just trying to clarify, that was not the case." Mina said.
Balloons, flowers, pictures
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will travel to Orlando on Tuesday to meet with investigators. She said that a key goal of the investigation was to determine why Mateen targeted the gay community. The victims were predominantly gay and Hispanic since it was "Latin night" at Pulse.
Around Orlando, people left balloons, flowers, pictures and posters at a makeshift memorial in front of the city's new performing arts centre and at Orlando Regional Medical Center where 49 white crosses were emblazoned with red hearts and the names of the victims.
The crosses were built by a Chicago carpenter with a history of constructing crosses for victims of mass shootings. Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Orlando last week and installed the crosses at the medical centre, where many of the 53 shooting victims who survived were taken for treatment.
Dr. Khurshid Ahmed was part of a group of Muslim-Americans at a Sunday vigil attended by tens of thousands who held signs reading, "Muslims Condemn Extremism."
A letter from the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said Mateen wrote on Facebook that "real Muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the West."
With files from Reuters