Florida Nightclub Massacre Is The Deadliest Mass Shooting In US History

Publish Date
Monday, 13 June 2016, 7:20AM

A gunman has killed 50 people at a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in the worst mass shooting in US history.

Police killed the shooter, who was identified as Omar S. Mateen, a Florida resident.

A top US congressman said Mateen may have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group.

NBC News also reported that Mateen had called 911 before the shooting and swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Islamic State's Amaq news agency says the Islamist militant group was responsible for the shooting that killed at least 50 people in a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

"The armed attack that targeted a gay nightclub in the city of Orlando in the American state of Florida which left over 100 people dead or injured was carried out by an Islamic State fighter," Amaq said.

53 people were wounded in the rampage, which Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said was the deadliest single US shooting incident, eclipsing the 32 people killed in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech university.

"Today we're dealing with something that we never imagined and is unimaginable," Dyer said, more than doubling an earlier estimate that about 20 bodies had been found.

A police officer working as a security guard inside the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando exchanged fire with the suspect at about 2am on Sunday, police officials said.

A hostage situation developed, and three hours later SWAT team officers used armoured cars to storm the club before shooting dead the gunman.

Dozens of terrified patrons, some of whom had been hiding in restrooms, were rescued. One officer was injured when he was hit in his helmet while exchanging fire with the gunman, police said.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on a congressional intelligence committee, noted that the shooting took place during Ramadan, and that ISIS leaders in Syria have urged attacks during this time.

"The target was an LGBT nightclub during Pride, and - if accurate - that according to local law enforcement the shooter declared his allegiance to ISIS, (that) indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism," Schiff said in a statement.

If confirmed as an act of terrorism, it would stand as the deadliest such attack on US soil since September 11, 2001, when al Qaeda-trained hijackers crashed jetliners into New York's World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing some 3000 people.

Asked if the FBI suspected the gunman might have had inclinations toward militant Islam, including a possible sympathy for Islamic State, Ronald Hopper, an assistant FBI agent in charge, told reporters: "We do have suggestions that the individual may have leanings toward that particular ideology. But right now we can't say definitively."

President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to provide any assistance needed to Florida police investigating the shooting, the White House said.

Obama decried the shooting as an act of terror and hate" targeting a place of solidarity and empowerment for gays and lesbians.

The attacker was carrying an assault rifle and a handgun, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said. He was also carrying an unidentified "device", Orlando Police Chief John Mina said earlier.

The choice of target was especially heart-wrenching for members of the US lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida said in a statement.

"Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety," the group said.

It was the second deadly shooting at an Orlando night spot in as many nights.

Late on Friday, a man thought to be a deranged fan fatally shot singer Christina Grimmie, a former contestant on The Voice, as she was signing autographs after a concert.

The Vatican says Pope Francis is expressing the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation over the massacre.

A Vatican spokesman says the pontiff denounces the homicidal folly and senseless hatred and joins the families of the victims in prayer and compassion.

In the wake of the shooting, likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says he is "right on radical Islamic terrorism" and is calling for toughness and vigilance.

Trump, who wants a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the US, tweeted his views again after the attack.

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