FBI questions member of mosque attended
by Orlando gunman
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[June 18, 2016]
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Gruber
ORLANDO, Fla./FORT PIERCE, Fla. (Reuters)
- FBI agents on Friday questioned a member of the Florida mosque
attended by Omar Mateen, the man who shot 49 people to death at a gay
nightclub, as new information surfaced revealing the killer had
exhibited chronic behavioral problems during his youth.
Academic records obtained by Reuters showing Mateen was frequently
suspended as a student - at least twice for fighting before he was
transferred to a special high school for potential dropouts - added
to a disturbing portrait of the long-troubled gunman who committed
the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Mateen, the 29-year-old private security guard shot dead by police
at the end of the June 12 massacre in Orlando, has been described by
his first wife - whom he divorced after a brief marriage - as an
abusive, mentally disturbed man with a violent temper.
Others who knew him recalled Mateen, a U.S. citizen and Florida
resident born in New York to Afghan immigrants, as a quiet, socially
awkward individual who kept largely to himself.
The FBI has acknowledged interviewing Mateen in 2013 and 2014 for
suspected ties to Islamist militant groups but concluded he posed no
threat. Still, evidence in the Orlando case points to a crime at
least inspired by extremist ideology.
Authorities have said Mateen paused a number of times during his
three-hour siege at the Pulse nightclub to place cell phone calls to
emergency 911 dispatchers and to post internet messages professing
support for various Islamist militant groups.
Nevertheless, Mateen appears to have been "self-radicalized" and
acting without any direction from outside networks, although his
second wife, Noor Salman, had known of his plans to carry out the
attack, U.S. officials have said.
A federal grand jury was convened earlier in the week to decide
whether to charge Salman.
FBI MOSQUE INTERVIEW
FBI agents turned their attention on Friday to at least one of
Mateen's fellow worshipers at the mosque he attended near his home,
the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce.
In what was the first such known interview in connection with the
nightclub shooting, two federal agents met with the man at the
mosque for about 30 minutes ahead of Friday prayers, according to
Omar Saleh, a lawyer for the Council of American-Islamic Relations
who sat in on the session.
"We were meeting with some agents," Saleh told Reuters, declining to
identify the person interviewed. "They were asking questions
relative to the incident that happened on Sunday."
Meanwhile, funerals and memorials were held around Florida and in
Puerto Rico - home to many of the people killed. Mourners hugged and
wept after the burial of Kimberly Morris, 37, in Kissimmee, Florida,
and family members of Angel Candelario-Padro, 28, embraced after his
body was returned to his hometown of Guanica, Puerto Rico.
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A view of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, a center attended by
Omar Mateen who attacked Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in Fort Pierce,
Florida June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Brown
The Vietnamese Association of Central Florida sponsored a public
memorial vigil on Friday night.
As details about Mateen's background continued to emerge,
transcripts and disciplinary records furnished to Reuters on Friday
showed Mateen was suspended at least 15 times during his enrollment
in Martin County, Florida, public schools, mostly in the eighth and
Two of those suspensions, within a week of each other in May of
2001, were listed as discipline for "fighting with injury" during
his freshman year at Martin County High School.
Days after that second suspension, Mateen was transferred to
Spectrum Junior-Senior High School, a dropout prevention center run
by the district, records showed.
He returned to Martin County High in January 2002, stayed there for
another year, then withdrew from mainstream high school and enrolled
instead in adult education classes through April 2003.
His academic performance was mixed, a combination of high grades and
failing marks, in contrast to his mostly dismal report cards from
President Barack Obama, who met with survivors of the shooting and
families of the dead in Orlando on Thursday, urged Congress to pass
measures to make it harder to legally acquire high-powered weapons
like the semi-automatic rifle used in the attack.
Lawmakers are under pressure to respond. The Senate is expected to
vote on Monday on four proposals for limited gun restrictions,
although all four are expected to fail. A group of Republican
senators attempted on Friday to craft compromise legislation that
might stand a better chance of passing.
(Additional reporting by Carlos Barria in Kissimmee, Florida, Alvin
Baez in Guanica, Puerto Rico and Zachary Fagenson in West Palm
Beach, Florida; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Mary Milliken
and Richard Pullin)
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