US Muslim leaders condemn Orlando gay bar attack, slam extremists


The head of a prominent US Muslim advocacy group Sunday strongly condemned the nightclub massacre in Florida, calling members of the Islamic State group an "aberration" amid allegations the gunman was inspired by the jihadists.

The head of a prominent US Muslim advocacy group Sunday strongly condemned the nightclub massacre in Florida, calling members of the Islamic State group an "aberration" amid allegations the gunman was inspired by the jihadists.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also called for unity and urged politicians not to "exploit" the slaughter in Orlando, which left 50 dead and dozens more injured.


"This is a hate crime. Plain and simple. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms," Awad told a news conference.

"It violates our principles as Americans and as Muslims. Let me be clear, we have no tolerance for extremism of any kind."

The FBI said the American gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who died in an exchange of fire with police, was believed to have made a 911 call pledging allegiance to IS before the shooting.

Awad referenced such reporting and said he had a word for IS members and supporters.

"You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. You are an aberration, you are an outlaw ... they don't speak for our faith. They never belonged to this beautiful faith."

With the 2016 race for the White House in full swing, Awad warned that perpetrators of attacks such as the one in Orlando "mean only to divide us" and called for calm on the political front.

"And to those politicians who may try to exploit this tragedy, we ask them to respect the victims and their families. This is not the time to score points. This is not the time to exploit fear. This is the time for unity and faith."

Orlando shooting 'act of terror' Obama

President Barack Obama has decried the deadliest mass shooting in American history as an "act of terror" and an "act of hate" targeting a place of "solidarity and empowerment" for gays and lesbians.

He urged Americans to decide whether this is the kind of "country we want to be."

Speaking hours after the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Obama said on Sunday that the FBI would investigate the shooting as terrorism but that the alleged shooter's motivations were unclear.

He said the US "must spare no effort" to determine whether the suspect, identified by authorities as Omar Mateen, had any ties to extremist groups.

"What is clear is he was a person filled with hatred," Obama said of the alleged shooter.

He said this was "an especially heartbreaking day" for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and a sobering reminder that an attack on any American is an attack on all, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

White House hopeful Donald Trump lost no time in claiming the killing showed he has been right about Islamic extremism all long.

The Republican flag-bearer demanded that President Barack Obama stand down if he refused to blame the attack on what Trump called "radical Islam."

The billionaire has previously argued that incidents like last year's San Bernardino shooting show that the United States should ban Muslim travelers.

Local imam says shooter showed no signs of being violent homophobe

The imam of the mosque where the Orlando nightclub shooter worshipped said Sunday that the suspect never gave any indication he was capable of such violence.

Omar Mateen, 29, attended evening prayers three or four times a week at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, bringing his son who is about four or five years old, the mosque's imam said.

"He would pray and his son would play," said Syed Shafeeq Rahman, who has known Mateen since 2003 when he became the imam.

Mateen did not socialize, leaving when services ended.

He didn't talk but would smile and shake hands, Rahman said.

The imam said it was "unbelievable" that a heavily-armed Mateen carried out a rampage at a gay club in Orlando, killing 50 people and wounding 53.

It was the deadliest terror attack in the United States since September 11, 2001.

Authorities said Mateen apparently called 911 before the massacre and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

"I never expected this," Rahman said, holding a Koran in his hand as he spoke with reporters. "We teach peace and justice."

"It must be some kind of psychological problem or anger problem," the imam said, adding that Mateen might have been radicalized on the Internet.

Mateen's parents regularly attend services at the mosque and his father works in life insurance, the imam said.

Rahman said he was concerned about the safety of the mosque, located on a quiet residential street in the small coastal city of Fort Pierce.

"The people who are bad people look like us, and that's a problem," he said.

A moment of horror results in the US' worst ever gun attack 

A man armed with an assault rifle killed 50 people during a gay pride celebration at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early on Sunday in the deadliest mass shooting in US history, a rampage President Barack Obama denounced as an act of terror and hate.

Police killed the gunman, who was identified as Omar Mateen, 29, a New York-born Florida resident and US citizen who was the son of immigrants from Afghanistan and had twice been questioned by FBI agents in recent years.

Law enforcement officials were probing evidence suggesting the attack may have been inspired by Islamic State militants, although they said there was no proof that Mateen had worked directly with the group.

"It has been reported that Mateen made calls to 911 this morning in which he stated his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State," said Ronald Hopper, the FBI's assistant special agent in charge on the case.

Shots rang out at the crowded Pulse nightclub in the heart of a city that is one of the most popular US tourist destinations as some 350 patrons were attending a Latin music event in conjunction with gay pride week celebrations. Clubgoers described scenes of terror and pandemonium, with one man who escaped saying he hid under a car and bandaged a wounded stranger with his shirt.

"Words cannot and will not describe the feeling of that," Joshua McGill said in a posting on Facebook. "Being covered in blood. Trying to save a guy's life."

Fifty-three people were wounded in the rampage. It ranked as the deadliest single US mass shooting incident, eclipsing the massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007.

"We know enough to say this was an act of terror, an act of hate," Obama said in a speech from the White House. "As Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage and in resolve to defend our people."

US officials cautioned, however, they had no conclusive evidence of any direct connection with any foreign extremist group.

"So far as we know at this time, his first direct contact was a pledge of bayat (loyalty) he made during the massacre," said a US counterterrorism official. "This guy appears to have been pretty screwed up without any help from anybody."

Still, the shooting was nearly certain to reignite emotional debates over American gun laws and homeland security in the midst of a US presidential race shaping up to be a vitriolic campaign between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

The attack came six months after a married couple in California - a US-born son of Pakistani immigrants and a Pakistani-born woman he married in Saudi Arabia, fatally shot 14 people in San Bernardino in an attack inspired by Islamic State. That couple died in a shootout with police hours after their attack on a holiday party attended by the husband's co-workers.

Source AFP

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