Authorities are calling the shooting the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, as partygoers danced the night away at popular Florida gay nightspot, Pulse, a gunman entered the building and opened fire on the crowd.
Within seconds, 50 were dead, another three severely injured.
The guman, who has been identified by the FBI as 29 year-old Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, was known to police. Mateen, who worked as a security guard, had boasted to coworkers of having terrorist ties in 2013, prompting interviews with the FBI, though he was released shortly after, and again after a second round of interviews which were deemed “inconclusive” in 2014.
At around 2am, Mateen made a call to 911 outside Pulse, where he swore allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Moments later, he entered the Florida nightclub armed with a pistol and an assault riffle, and broke partygoers’ laughter with a hail of bullets.
“At first it sounded like it was part of the show because there was an event going on and we were all having a good time,” clubgoer Andy Moss told CNN.
“I just saw bodies going down… Just one after another,” another survivor, Christopher Hansen said.
Soon after, police SWAT teams stormed the building and killed Mateen, where they were met with the gruesome results of the worst gun massacre in US history.
“We have cleared the building, and it is with great sadness that I share we have not 20, but 50 casualties in addition to the shooter,” Florida mayor, Buddy Dyer told press at a news briefing in Orlando.
Syrian-based news station, Amaq News, were quick to claim responsibility for the siege, releasing a statement just hours after to shooting, saying; “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.”
US President Barack Obama called the attack a hate crime, in a White House briefing hours after the attack.
“Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” Obama said, ordering flags to fly half-staff as an act of mourning.
Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has been an outspoken advocate for banning Muslim immigration to the US, responded in a Tweet shortly after, saying the incident vindicated his stance.
“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness and vigilance,” Trump stated.
The motivations for the massacre are still unknown, with authorities cautioning the gunman’s so-called ISIS ties are currently unproven, though Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique, and ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, have described the mass-murderer as homophobic and mentally unstable.
“We were in downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Seddique said, in an interview with NBC News earlier today.
In a separate interview with The Washington Post, Yusufiy, who left Mateen in 2011, said she feared for her life around her ex-partner.
“He was not a stable person… He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
In the past fortnight, terror suspect Mateen had legally purchased a Glock pistol and a long gun.
Images via AP.