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Orlando gunman searched social media for news of his killing spree

Tribune Washington Bureau logoTribune Washington Bureau 6/16/2016 By Brian Bennett and Del Quentin Wilber

Police lock down Orange Avenue around Pulse nightclub, in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. © REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski Police lock down Orange Avenue around Pulse nightclub, in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. WASHINGTON — Shortly before he was shot and killed by police, the gunman in Sunday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., searched on social media for news of his murderous rampage, according to the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Apparently using a smartphone, Omar Mateen searched Facebook for “Pulse Orlando” and “shooting,” committee staff learned after uncovering five Facebook accounts they believe gunman Omar Mateen had used.

Mateen also posted about his ostensible political agenda to Facebook from the gay nightclub where he killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.

“America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state..I pledge my alliance to (Islamic State leader) abu bakr al Baghdadi..may Allah accept me,” he wrote.

He also wrote: “The real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west” and “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes..now taste the Islamic state vengeance.”

The final post on Facebook reads, “In the next few days you will see attacks from the Islamic state in the usa.”

FBI officials say they have found no evidence of a larger plot, or any evidence that Mateen had any previous contact with or support from the Islamic State or other terrorist groups.

They believe Mateen was self-radicalized on the internet, where he watched jihadist propaganda, including grisly videos of beheadings by militants.

Mateen’s posts are contained in a letter to Facebook from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, requesting all of the company’s data on Mateen.

Committee staff found that Mateen used Facebook in May to search for information on the married couple who shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party on Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, Calif.

On June 4, Mateen apparently entered a search with the words: “Baghdadi Speech.”

Johnson also sent a letter requesting employment records from the security company G4S Secure Solutions, which employed Mateen as a security guard at a gated housing and golf compound in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

FBI agents reviewing Omar Mateen’s electronic communications and call records have had difficulty accessing data stored on the cellphone he used during the Sunday massacre because it was damaged by water and blood, a law enforcement official said.

But FBI analysts are putting the device through a drying process and are confident they ultimately can recover phone numbers, texts, photos and other data, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss progress in the investigation.

A second law enforcement official said FBI analysts had determined that Mateen downloaded jihadist propaganda to his laptop computer, including videos of beheadings by militants.

Despite scrutiny of the hard drive, the FBI has found no documents written by Mateen that shed light on why he chose the Pulse nightclub for his attack, or why he chose Sunday.

FBI agents have interviewed Mateen’s wife, Noor Zahi Salman, over the last two days. Her story has changed over that time, the official said.

“Her story has been very fluid, and we are still evaluating it,” the second official said. “It has evolved, but not in a simple or straightforward way.”

Salman at first told investigators that she had accompanied her husband to purchase ammunition at a gun store, and to visit the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the official said.

She also initially told them that she had been generally worried that he might do something to harm others.

More recently, she has told investigators that she specifically warned her husband on Saturday not to commit an attack later that night.

Beginning at 2 a.m. Sunday, he methodically shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others inside the crowded gay nightclub.

Salman was polygraphed during one of the interview sessions, a third law enforcement official said. But it’s still unclear which of her stories is true, the official added.

Investigators use polygraphs to try to determine whether someone is lying, and as leverage to pressure witnesses or suspects to be truthful in later interrogations. Polygraph results are not admissible in court.

If Salman had knowledge of the attack, her failure to notify authorities could lead to an array of federal criminal charges, potentially including conspiracy to commit murder.

Federal prosecutors and agents are using a grand jury in Orlando to issue subpoenas to obtain records, the official said.

Those could include employment and medical records, financial statements, dating apps and other Internet services that Mateen used, and other private records.

No testimony has been taken, and there are no plans to present witnesses.

No charges are imminent, the official said, because agents are in the early stages of gathering evidence and feel no pressure to rush the investigation.

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