Obama Rules Out Wider Plot in Orlando Massacre, as Trump Calls for Scrutiny of U.S. Muslims

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President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, June 13, 2016.
President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, June 13, 2016. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday there was no clear evidence that the shooter in Sunday's massacre in Orlando, Florida, was directed by a larger terrorist network, even as Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, called for more strikes against ISIS abroad and closer surveillance of U.S. Muslim communities. 

"It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the internet," the president told reporters in the Oval Office after a briefing by senior officials including Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey. 

"As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time," Obama said. 

The shooter, Omar Mateen, expressed allegiance to the radical group Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS, in a call to the city's 911 emergency telephone line during a standoff with police while holding hostages in a gay nightclub called Pulse. 

Obama said there was no evidence that Mateen, who killed 49 people at the club before he was shot dead by police, was part of a wider plot. 

Administration officials were examining various internet sites that had been visited by the shooter, Obama said. 

He said the United States had to think about the risks of firearms laws that allow easy access to guns. Police have said the gunman was armed with an assault-rifle-type weapon and a handgun that were purchased legally. 

Earlier, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, faulted the Muslim community for not reporting people like Mateen. "You will find that many people that knew him felt that he was a whack job ... (that) something like this would have happened," Trump told CNN in a phone interview. "People that knew him, the ex-wife, other people. They don't report them. For some reason the Muslim community does not report people like this." 

Trump said the United States needed better intelligence-gathering to prevent such things from happening. 

"We have to look at the mosques ... and we have to look at the community," he said. "And believe me, the community knows the people that have the potential to blow up." 

In a separate interview with Fox News, Trump said the United States needs to increase its military response against Islamic State in the wake of the attack, including additional bombings.

In the Oval Office, Obama said he was concerned that the response to the massacre would turn into a debate over whether to toughen gun laws or pursue extremist groups like Islamic State. 

"We have to go after these terrorist organizations and hit them hard," Obama said. "But we also have to make sure that it is not easy for somebody who decides they want to harm people in this country to be able to obtain weapons." 

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton called for increased efforts to remove Islamic State content from the internet. The Orlando shooter was dead but "the virus that poisoned his mind remains very strong, and we must attack it," she said.

Before the briefing with Obama, FBI Director James Comey told reporters there were "strong indications" Mateen had been radicalized through the internet, but federal authorities still are working to determine his exact motives.

During phone calls with authorities in the middle of the shooting rampage, Mateen mentioned support for the leader of Islamic State, the Boston Marathon attackers and a Florida man who became an al Nusra Front suicide bomber in Syria, Comey said. Al Nusra is an al Qaeda offshoot at odds with Islamic State. 

"The bombers at the Boston marathon and the suicide bomber from Florida were not inspired by ISIL, which adds a little bit to the confusion about his motives," Comey said. 

He told reporters, "There are strong indications of radicalization by this killer and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations. 

"We're working hard to understand the killer and his motives and his sources of inspiration but we're highly confident this killer was radicalized at least in some part through the internet," he said. 

Comey said the FBI was looking hard at its own prior investigations of Mateen's behavior "to see if there is something we should have done differently. 

"So far, the honest answer is: I don't think so," he said. 

"We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack but we're also called upon to find out which pieces of hay might someday become needles. That is hard work." 

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