ORLANDO, Fla., (Reuters) – President Barack Obama yesterday met survivors of a massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub and relatives of the 49 people killed and said the United States must act to control gun violence and fight what he called homegrown terrorism.
“The last two terrorist attacks on our soil – Orlando and San Bernardino – were homegrown,” Obama told reporters, before urging Congress to pass measures to make it harder to legally acquire high-powered weapons like the assault rifle used in the attack on Sunday.
“I’m pleased to hear that the Senate will hold votes on preventing individuals with possible terrorist ties from buying guns,” he said.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Orlando, Florida, four days after a U.S.-born gunman claiming allegiance to various Islamist militant groups carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
New details emerged yesterday about the gunman’s activity on Facebook and text messages he sent during the shooting rampage. Obama said he “held and hugged” grieving family members before laying flowers at a memorial for the victims of the attack on the Pulse nightclub. Police killed the gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, a U.S. citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrants.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but U.S. officials have said they do not believe Mateen was assisted from abroad. CIA Director John Brennan told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday that the agency had “not been able to uncover any direct link” between Mateen and militants abroad.
A married couple also claiming allegiance to Islamic State shot dead 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December.
Orlando mourned the dead after what was also the worst attack in America on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Wakes were under way for at least three victims – Kimberly Morris, Anthony Luis Laureano Disla and Roy Fernandez.
Twenty-three of the 53 wounded remained hospitalized, six in critical condition, according to the Orlando Regional Medical Center.
During his attack, Mateen posted messages on Facebook and called a news station.
One Facebook message, apparently referring to air strikes against Islamic State by the United States and its allies, said: “You kill innocent women and children by doing us air strikes … now taste the Islamic State vengeance,” according to U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, who asked Facebook to turn over material from Mateen’s accounts.