#OrlandoShooting: Gunman Behind Shooting That Killed 50 ‘Named as Omar Mateen’

The gunman behind a suspected terrorist attack that killed 50 people at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando is believed to be a US citizen of Afghan heritage named as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old man from Florida.

He is alleged to have opened fire at the Pulse Club in the early hours of Sunday, taking hostages, killing many and hospitalising 53. Raising the alarm in the early hours of Sunday morning, staff at the venue posted on Facebook: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running”. .

Orlando confirmed police said the shooting was being treated as an “act of domestic terrorism” and had resulted in mass casualties, urging people to stay away from the area.

Several news outlets identified the gunman as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old from Fort Pierce, Florida. The FBI said it had a “positive identification” of the shooter though it has not yet released a name as it is in the process of notifying his family.

The gunman was killed during a shootout with police, as they broke into the nightclub to rescue 30 people held hostage there. No motive for the attack has been offered by police. The Guardian has not been able to independently verify the identity of the shooter.

Police initially said about 20 people had been killed in the attack, with 42 injured, but later revised the death toll up to 50, with 53 hospitalised, including one police officer who had been shot in the head but whose “life had been saved by his Kevlar helmet”. They confirmed the gunman was armed with an assault rifle, handgun and “some kind of device”.

In a press conference on Sunday morning, an FBI spokesman said investigators believed the attacker may have had extremist beliefs, and would consider possible links to Isis, but cautioned they were pursuing multiple leads.

An explosion was heard at the club at about 5am local time, which police said was a “distractionary device” used as part of the rescue mission to get to the hostages. The explosion caused some panic on the ground, which led to Orlando police tweeting to say it had been a “controlled explosion” and warning media about reporting inaccuracies.

Police confirmed the incident began at 2am when the gunman started firing and an officer on duty at the club exchanged shots with him. They said it then descended into a “hostage situation”. The situation was resolved three hours later when a Swat team stormed the nightclub after receiving messages from club patrons who were hiding in the club while the gunman was still at large.

“A little after 0500 hours we made a decision to go in and conduct a rescue, we were being contacted by people in the bathroom, about 15 people, our biggest concern was future loss of life,” said John Mina, the chief of police.

Several explosives and an armoured vehicle were used to break through a wall of the nightclub and rescue approximately 30 hostages. The suspect was shot by a police officer during this intervention.

Mina said they were still trying to identify the gunman, but he appears to have been “well-organised”. They could not confirm if the man was operating as a lone wolf or in coordination with others, but believe there is no increased threat to Orlando or the surrounding areas.

Police confirmed several “suspicious devices” were found in and around the nightclub, including one on the gunman and one on his car.

“This is an incident, as I see it, that we can definitely classify as a domestic terrorism incident,” said the Orange County sheriff, Jerry Demings.

When asked if the suspect had any affiliation with Islamic State, the FBI assistant agent in charge, Ron Hopper, said: “We do have suspicions that the individual may have leanings toward that ideology.” Though when pushed as to what led him to believe that, he clarified that all possibilities were being investigated.

Earlier in the evening one witness told Sky News there had been more than 100 people inside the venue for the club’s Latin night when the gunman entered the building and began firing into the ceiling and into the crowd.

Richard Negroni said: “We just heard shots, it was less than a minute, it felt longer. There was a brief pause and we just ran. Everybody was just faces to the floor. I had someone over me, I really didn’t see [how many gunmen there were]. All I can tell you was the club was packed, there were over 100 people there, if the gunman came in through the front door people were injured or worse.”

In a Facebook post, Negroni wrote that the shooter opened fire at about 2am and “people on the dancefloor and bar got down on the floor”. He said some people near the bar and back exit managed to escape quickly.

Mina Justice told the Associated Press that her 30-year-old son Eddie, who was in the club when the attack took place, texted her asking her to call the police. Justice said Eddie had run into a bathroom to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.”

The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,’” she said. “That was the last conversation.”

Mayor Buddy Dyer praised the efforts of law enforcement agencies, saying that “many were saved by [their] heroic efforts”.”We had a crime that will have a lasting effect, we need to stand strong, we need to support victims and their families,” he said.

 The scene of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Photograph: EPA
The scene of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Photograph: EPA

Family members were waiting throughout the morning to hear about the safety of their loved ones. Many of the injured were brought to the Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) located close to the nightclub and they announced in the early hours of the morning that they were in “lockdown” and only admitting entry to “essential workers”. They have since instructed those who believe their family might have been brought there to come to the family meeting area at the hospital.

Staff at the club posted a message on Facebook thanking people for their concern during the night’s “tragic event”.

“As soon as we have any information we will update everyone,” read the Facebook statement. “Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”

 People and police at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Photograph: EPA
People and police at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Photograph: EPA

The attack comes just days after the fatal shooting of Voice contestant Christina Grimmie in Orlando, while she was signing autographs for fans after a show.

Kevin James Loibl has been named by police as the shooter in that incident and said the 26-year-old travelled to Orlando from his home in St Petersburg, Florida, about two hours’ drive away, with the intention of carrying out the crime.

Police confirmed there was no known connection between the two shootings.

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