President Barack Obama said Monday there is no evidence the Orlando shooter was part of a larger plot on the United States, but he appears to have been influenced by violent extremist information on the internet.
Obama also made yet another pitch for stricter gun access laws, calling many processes in place now “lax” which make it “too easy” for mentally ill individuals or lone wolf terrorists to obtain firearms. The president warned against “an either/or debate” that focuses only on terrorism or guns — “It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and,” he said.
“We have to go after these terrorist organizations and hit them hard. We have to counter extremism,” Obama said in the Oval Office, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. seated beside him. “But we also have to make sure that it is not easy for someone who decides he wants to harm people in this country to obtain weapons to get at them.”
Forty-nine people were killed in the attack at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday morning, before the gunman himself was shot dead by police.
The president did not announce any new measures to tighten access to firearms.
Obama also criticized “crazy” processes that can make it difficult for law enforcement to even be alerted when individuals they are monitoring attempt to obtain firearms. On that, he called for “some soul searching.”
Federal law enforcement officials have found no reason to conclude that Omar Mateen, 29, was part of a wider Islamic State plan to carry out attacks inside the United States, Obama told reporters following a briefing with FBI and other national security officials.
The president said evidence has been found showing Mateen viewed “extremist information” online.
Law enforcement officials are examining those materials so, as Obama put it, “we can have a better sense of the pathway that the killer took in making a decision to launch this attack.”
“We see no clear evidence that he was directed externally,” the president said, confirming that Mateen made a last-minute pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State via a telephone call to Orlando’s 911 system during the attack.
Obama noted groups like ISIS have targeted LGBT people before. “I’m sure we’re going to find there are connections … between this vicious, bankrupt ideology and general attitudes towards gays and lesbians,” he said.
An FBI-led probe is still in the “preliminary stages,” Obama said, adding that “there is still a lot that we have got to learn.” The FBI is treating the probe as a terror investigation.
The attack — and its roots — “appears to be similar to what we saw in San Bernardino — but we don’t yet know,” Obama said, in reference to the mass shooting in Southern California in December which killed 14 people. It appears to be an example of “homegrown extremism,” the president said, noting Mateen legally purchased the two weapons he had inside the club and one left in his vehicle.
“It was not difficult for him to obtain these weapons,” Obama said, adding that one of the “biggest challenges” facing the U.S. in the fight against ISIS will be how certain individuals are motivated by the group’s ideology and materials available on the internet.
“This is a devastating attack on all Americans,” he said. “It is one that is particularly painful for the people of Orlando. But I think we all recognize that this could have happened anywhere in this country. And we feel enormous solidarity and grief.”
Obama said the fact that the target of the attack was a gay club was “relevant” to the shooter’s motivations.