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.
Shooting at Pulse Nightclub on S Orange. Multiple injuries. Stay away from area. pic.twitter.com/5Di2mc6XUY
— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 12, 2016
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.
We can confirm this is a mass casualty situation. Support from local/state/federal agencies. We expect to brief media shortly.
— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 12, 2016
Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead.
— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 12, 2016
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.
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.”
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.
Trump Again Boosts a Baseless Conspiracy Theory, This One About Jeffrey Epstein
President Donald Trump on Saturday promoted a conspiracy theory linking the Clinton family to the death of multimillionaire and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, the latest instance of Trump propagating baseless conspiracy theories and falsehoods.
Trump shared a tweet and video from conservative comedian Terrence Williams that claimed without evidence that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — Trump’s 2016 presidential election rival — were responsible for Epstein’s death. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and Attorney General Bill Barr said Epstein died in an “apparent suicide” while in federal custody.
As a result of Trump’s retweet, the video received more than 3 million views on Twitter by Sunday morning — more than triple Williams’ most recent videos. Both Trump and Bill Clinton were friendly with Epstein in previous decades, but Trump seized on the conspiracy theory Saturday in his latest dig at the Clintons. The tweet also falsely claimed that Epstein died while on suicide watch, even though Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch before his death.
Angel Ureña, a spokesman for the former president, called the conspiracy theory “ridiculous, and of course not true.”
“And Donald Trump knows it,” Ureña tweeted.
Trump promotes conspiracy theories
Lawmakers and government officials have called for inquiries into Epstein’s death, but none have gone so far as to even suggest that political rivals were behind it.
Unlike any other President before him, Trump has repeatedly promoted evidence-free conspiracy theories and falsehoods without regard for the consequences of his rhetoric.
Even before he was a candidate for President, Trump grew his following on the political right by promoting the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya — and not the United States — even after Obama released a birth certificate showing he was born in the US.
During his campaign for President, Trump spread a conspiracy theory linking the father of his then-GOP presidential rival Sen. Ted Cruz to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Cruz campaign denied it was Rafael Cruz and Cruz, a Texas Republican, responded at the time by blasting Trump as a pathological liar.
And in the second month of his presidency, Trump accused Obama without evidence of tapping his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. More than two years later, there is still no evidence that Trump’s phones were wiretapped during the 2016 campaign.
Trump has also repeatedly claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election; has fed conspiracy theories about a “deep state” of government officials working against him; and has also falsely smeared former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and called the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign “treason” — among many others.
Trump was not the only official in his administration to promote the Epstein-Clintons conspiracy theory.
Lynne Patton, a senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a longtime Trump family aide and friend, also gave voice to the conspiracy theory on her Instagram account earlier in the day.
Trump’s tweet promoting the conspiracy theory came about an hour after Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio warned of the dangers of spreading partisan conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death.
“Scrutiny of how #Epstein was able to commit suicide is warranted,” Rubio tweeted. “But the immediate rush to spread conspiracy theories about someone on the ‘other side’ of partisan divide having him killed illustrates why our society is so vulnerable to foreign disinformation & influence efforts.”
White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox News Sunday defending the President. “I think the President just wants everything to be investigated,” Conway said when asked about Trump’s controversial retweet.
“Just the day before, there was some unsealed information implicating some people very high up,” she said, referring to the hundreds of pages of documents from a defamation lawsuit from one of Epstein’s accusers. Those documents were unsealed Friday by a court.
“I will say that there’s always this rush to (say), ‘We need transparency. We need accountability,’ when it involves fictional accusations like collusion with Russia to swing an election. This seems to be very concrete and that Jeffrey Epstein has done some very bad things over a number of years. So let’s continue to investigate that,” Conway said.
Democrats call out Trump for ‘more recklessness’
Still, two 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on Sunday called out Trump for retweeting the Epstein conspiracy theory and the President’s history of spreading baseless claims.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called Trump’s latest theory-peddling “more recklessness” and “dangerous,” telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that Trump has “been using the Clintons as a means for a lot of his false accusations.”
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke also told Tapper that Trump is attacking his “political enemies with unfounded conspiracy theories” and called it “bizarre behavior.”
O’Rourke said the President is attempting to shift the focus away from last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“He’s changing the conversation, and if we allow him to do that, then we will never be able to focus on the true problems, of which he is a part, and make sure that we get to the solutions,” O’Rourke, an El Paso native, said.
Jeffrey Epstein Was Not Being Monitored in Jail as Directed Before His Death
Authorities said Epstein died of apparent suicide. He was in jail on sex-trafficking charges.
The law enforcement official told The Times Epstein was supposed to be checked by guards every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not being followed the night he was found dead in the Manhattan jail.
The jail had also transferred Epstein’s cellmate and left him alone ahead of his apparent suicide, The Times reports.
Epstein’s death has left officials and lawmakers asking for answers on how this happened.
Epstein had apparently been taken off suicide watch before he died.
His death comes just weeks after officials investigated a possible suicide attempt.
The FBI is launching an investigation into the circumstances of Epstein’s death, Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.
R. Kelly Charged With Soliciting a Minor in Minnesota
A Minnesota prosecutor has charged R. Kelly with prostitution and solicitation charges for a 2001 allegation that he invited a 17-year-old girl to his hotel and paid her $200 to dance naked with him.
On Monday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, is accused of soliciting the girl after meeting her before a concert in Minneapolis.
Freeman said the girl was trying to get an autograph from Kelly, and that the R&B performer gave her his signature and a phone number. When the girl called the number, she was invited to Kelly’s hotel. There she was offered $200 to take off her clothes and dance, Freeman said. He said Kelly took his clothes off and they danced together.
A criminal complaint said the girl said Kelly lay on his bed and the girl climbed on top of him “body to body.”
“According to Victim, the defendant was rubbing her body” and fondling himself, according to the complaint. “Victim stated that the defendant touched all over her body.”
The complaint said the girl attended Kelly’s concert “as a guest who did not have to pay,” and told her brother what had happened in Kelly’s hotel room.
According to Variety, Freeman said that the victim was under 18 but at least 16 years old at the time and the incident involved “dancing and sexual contact.” He added that there was no sexual intercourse between Kelly and the victim.
The charges are felonies, each punishable by up to five years in prison. Freeman said his office investigated after getting a tip from a Chicago tip line.
“We felt we had more than enough to charge based on her testimony and corroboration from her brother,” Freeman — who did not provide a name for the alleged victim in Minneapolis — said.
In a statement to Fox News on Monday, Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg, said: “That case is a pure publicity grab by the prosecutor.” Greenberg also tweeted: “Give me a break. This is beyond absurd.”
Gloria Allred, the attorney for several of Kelly’s accusers, said she also represents the newest woman to come forward. She commended the woman “for the courage she displayed in speaking to law enforcement.
“As this new case demonstrates, it is not too late for there to be justice for even more victims of R. Kelly,” Allred — who added she will not name the woman — said in a statement.
Allred said her client is not a prostitute. She told a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday that she was told the prostitution statute was the only one available to Minnesota authorities to charge Kelly in this case.
The charges are the latest legal problem for the 52-year-old singer, who remains jailed in New York after pleading not guilty last week in federal court to charges that he sexually abused women and girls who attended his concerts there. He is accused of using his fame to recruit young women and girls into illegal sexual activity.
Kelly is also charged separately in Chicago with engaging in child pornography.
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