The relatively straightforward narrative of the Sunday morning Orlando attack, a single, ISIS-inspired gunman acting on the basis of the group’s anti-gay policies, seems to be falling apart with the latest reports dramatically confusing the matter, and painting gunman Omar Mateen is a much different light.
After yesterday’s shock at the ordeal began to clear, patrons at the attacked nightclub, Pulse, discovered something incredible, and totally absent from the initial reports. Mateen wasn’t some unfamiliar attacker, but rather a “regular” at the bar, who had been coming in for at least three years.
A repeat visitor who used to drink to excess at Pulse, saying he couldn’t at home because his family was “really strict,” Mateen was also on a gay dating app used by other patrons of the club, and one man reported Mateen had exchanged messages with him and a friend.
A former classmate of Mateen’s at the police academy said that he believed Mateen to be gay “but not open about it,” and that Mateen had asked him out “romantically.”
Seddique Mateen, Omar’s father and self-proclaimed President of the Transitional Government of Afghanistan, had claimed that Omar was extremely outspoken in his opposition to gay people, and expressed disgust at seeing two men kissing recently in Miami.
The two stories don’t exactly add up, but then a lot of things don’t add up about the Mateen story, particularly the government narrative of him as an apparently random person who got “radicalized by the Internet” despite not having any apparent ties to any terror groups.
Indeed, the conflicting reports about Mateen’s “signs of radicalization” suggest he had no more than a tenuous grasp on who these Islamist factions he claimed loyalty to actually were, and had at different times claimed to be affiliated with wildly different groups.
The reports of Mateen claiming allegiance to ISIS amid the attacks are well known, but he also mentioned ties to the Boston bombers, the Tsarnaev brothers, who were said to have been inspired by an al-Qaeda magazine, as well as US suicide bomber Moner Mohammed Abusalha, who was a bomber for al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which is actually fighting against ISIS in Syria.
The FBI says they concluded Mateen’s claim of ties to the Tsarnaev’s was made up by him, and believe he had no more than tenuous ties to Abusalha. Mateen appeared keen to present himself as much better connected than he ever was.
But making matters even more confusing, the 2013 interviews the FBI conducted with Mateen were prompted by him claiming to be a member of Hezbollah, which is a totally ideologically opposed faction to either ISIS or al-Qaeda, and indeed a Shi’ite Muslim group, as opposed to the other two, which are both Sunnis.
That is not in keeping with any of the other “ISIS-inspired” types who have been publicized in recent years, who at the very least appeared to be somewhat clear on what ISIS is, and certainly understood the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam.
The reports from people who knew him, whether co-workers, his ex-wife, or fellow club-goers, all tell some pretty similar stories, presenting Mateen as a man extremely prone to anger and quick to threaten violence at the slightest provocation.
During his time guarding the PGA village, co-worker Daniel Gilroy says he “talked about killing people all the time,” and was in a state of “just constant anger. His ex-wife presented him as quick to violence, and extremely abusive.
Even the Pulse patrons who remember him say he would drink to excess and become loud and belligerent. One described him pulling a knife on somebody for telling a joke about religion. He apparently had to be removed from the club several times.
The truth about Mateen is likely far more complicated than anyone realized. His claim of ISIS ties are likely to be self-invented, just as his claim to know the Tsaernev brothers, or his claim before that to be a member of Hezbollah. The real question, and the one that we might never know for sure is, who exactly was Omar Mateen?