U.S. lays out plan to confront white supremacist violence

By Jarrett Renshaw and Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday unveiled a plan to address the threat of violence posed by white supremacists and militias, five months after members of those groups joined in a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The White House released a 30-page plan for increased information sharing between federal and local officials and social media companies, additional resources to identify and prosecute threats and new deterrents to prevent Americans from joining dangerous groups.

The administration conducted a sweeping assessment earlier this year of domestic terrorism that labeled white supremacists and militia groups as top national security threats. The issue took on new urgency after a Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who were trying to overturn Biden’s election victory.

The new strategy stopped short of calling for new laws to fight domestic threats, and officials on Tuesday did not offer many details on specific new resources.

“We concluded that we didn’t have the evidentiary basis, yet, to decide whether we wanted to proceed in that direction or whether we have sufficient authority as it currently exists at the federal level,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.

In a speech on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the “coming days and months” he would convene an interagency task force dedicated to combating domestic terrorism. Garland said he has already “begun to reinvigorate” that task force.

Garland said the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters had shown white supremacists and militia groups to be the country’s greatest domestic security threat.

“In the FBI’s view, the top domestic violent extremist threat comes from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocated for the superiority of the white race,” Garland said.

In his budget proposal released last month, Biden, who succeeded Trump on Jan. 20, sought $100 million in additional funding to train and hire analysts and prosecutors to disrupt and deter terrorist activity.

“The threat is elevated,” the administration official said. “Tackling it means ensuring that we do have the resources and personnel to address that elevated threat.”

The administration is also toughening the federal government’s screening methods to better identify employees who may pose insider threats. They are looking to share those techniques with private companies.

That effort includes an ongoing review by the Department of Defense over how and when to remove military members who are found to be engaged in known domestic terrorist groups.

The Defense Department review is looking at, among other things, how to define extremists, the senior administration official said.

“They are doing this in a way they feel ratchets up the protection but also respects expression and association protections,” the official said.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw;Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. spike in domestic terrorism ‘keeps me up at night,’ attorney general says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asked Congress on Tuesday to provide more funding for investigating and prosecuting domestic terrorism, saying it poses an “accelerating” threat that keeps him up at night.

Garland, who had served as a federal appellate judge and federal prosecutor before President Joe Biden nominated him to lead the Justice Department, was testifying about the department’s budget request for the 2022 fiscal year.

“We have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism,” Garland told a U.S. House of Representatives budgeting subcommittee. “Both of those keep me up at night.”

He did not name specific violent groups, but members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are among the more than 400 people arrested for the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by former President Donald Trump’s supporters.

The hearing marked Garland’s first appearance before Congress since being confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement officer in March.

He told the House panel that the lethality of weapons available to both foreign and domestic terrorists has increased, and that the Justice Department is “putting its resources into defending the country with respect to both”.

“We have an emerging and accelerating threat,” Garland said.

He highlighted in his opening remarks that the Justice Department is requesting $85 million in additional funding from Congress to bolster its efforts to combat domestic terrorism.

Garland said the department is also seeking a “historic investment” of $1 billion in its Office of Violence Against Women, and that the budget proposal includes a $232 million increase in funding to help combat gun violence.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Mark Heinrich)

U.S. Justice Department considers law to address domestic terrorism, official says

By Mark Hosenball and Mica Rosenberg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Justice Department is looking into ways to tighten federal criminal law to make it easier to prosecute alleged domestic terrorists, a top Justice Department official told Congress on Thursday.

Brad Wiegmann, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s national security division, noted that U.S. federal prosecutors can charge suspected foreign militants with “material support for terrorism,” but that there is no parallel law prosecutors can use against suspected domestic terrorists.

Legal experts have suggested that disparity should be addressed following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump.

“That is something that we are thinking about,” Wiegmann told a House appropriations subcommittee hearing. But he added: “We haven’t reached any conclusions on that yet.”

The power to change the law rests with Congress, not President Joe Biden’s administration. But Biden, whose Democrats narrowly control both houses of Congress, has made tackling domestic terrorism a priority.

“We won’t ignore what our intelligence agencies determine to be the most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland today, white supremacy is terrorism,” Biden said in his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

John Godfrey, a senior State Department counterterrorism official, told a separate House Homeland security subcommittee hearing on Thursday that U.S. diplomatic posts had reported rising concerns about links between racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism in the United States and Europe. He added that groups had encouraged individuals to join the military or law enforcement agencies to gain training that could be used to target perceived enemies.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Funeral set for New Jersey officer killed in shooting rampage

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Funeral services are scheduled on Tuesday for a northern New Jersey police detective, the first of six people to die last week in a shooting rampage that authorities have labeled an act of domestic terrorism.

Six people, including the man and woman who carried out the attack, died in a series of events on Dec. 10 that ended in a police shootout in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from New York City.

Jersey City Police Detective Joseph Seals was among four people killed by the pair, who died following a four-hour gun battle with police after holing up in a kosher market, authorities said.

Seals, 40, a 15-year police veteran who leaves a wife and five children, will be remembered at a funeral mass set for 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) at Saint Aedan’s Church in Jersey City.

A Jersey City native who worked as a county corrections officer before joining the police force in November 2005, Seals had been a detective for two years.

A GoFundMe page set up by Jersey City Police Officer’s Benevolent Association had raised more than $536,000 for his family by Monday afternoon.

Seals had gone to a cemetery on Dec. 10 to meet an informant as part of an unrelated gun or narcotics investigation, PIX11 television reported, citing an unidentified senior law enforcement source.

While there, he approached a van that was suspected of being involved in a murder in nearby a Bayonne. He was ambushed by the pair, David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, PIX11 and other local media reported.

A Jersey City police spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports.

The pair then drove to the JC Kosher Supermarket where authorities said they shot and killed three people and exchanged gunfire with police. The siege ended after four hours when police crashed an armored vehicle through the wall of the market.

After examining the attackers’ social media posts and other evidence, authorities said last week the pair had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group unaffiliated with mainstream Judaism and some of whose offshoots the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as hate groups. Officials said they had not established an official link between the shooters and the group.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

FBI investigating New Jersey kosher grocery rampage as domestic terrorism

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A fatal gun rampage at a kosher grocery store in northern New Jersey this week is now being treated as an act of domestic terrorism and the FBI will oversee the investigation, federal and state law enforcement officials said on Thursday.

Six people, including the man and woman who carried out the attack, three civilians and a police officer died in a series of events that ended in a police shootout on Tuesday in Jersey City, New Jersey, located across the Hudson River from New York City.

“The evidence points toward acts of hate,” state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told a news conference. “We are investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terror, fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs.”

The U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, told the news conference that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would lead the probe.

The four-hour gun battle at the JC Kosher Supermarket erupted after two assailants shot the police officer at a nearby cemetery and then fled in a white van. It ended after police crashed an armored vehicle through the wall of the market. Authorities on Wednesday said that the pair had targeted the kosher grocery store, heading there deliberately after leaving the cemetery.

On Thursday, authorities said they were examining social media posts and other evidence to learn more about the motives of the attackers, who they said had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group unaffiliated with mainstream Judaism and some of whose offshoots the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as hate groups. Authorities have not established an official link between the shooters and the group, Grewal said.

The attackers appear to have acted alone, officials said.

Authorities on Wednesday identified the shooters as David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50. The three civilian victims inside the market were co-owner Mindy Ferencz, 31, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49, and Moshe Deutsch, 24, they said.

A fourth person who was in the market escaped after the shooters entered. Officials declined to identify that person.

The slain police officer was identified as Joseph Seals, a 15-year veteran of the force and father of five.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop labeled the incident a hate crime just hours after the attack.

“I think as more info comes out it will be more and more clear not only that this was a hate crime but that the perpetrators had hoped to kill many more people than 4,” Fulop said on Twitter earlier.

Law enforcement recovered five guns linked to the two suspects, Grewal said. Four of them were recovered inside the kosher supermarket and one was recovered inside the van.

Officials said Anderson fired an AR-15-style weapon and Graham was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun as they entered the store. A 9mm Glock and 9mm semi-automatic firearm were recovered inside the market, and a .22-caliber gun equipped with a homemade silencer was found inside the U-Haul.

Authorities also said they were working to determine if Anderson and Graham were linked to the killing of an Uber driver in Bayonne, New Jersey, over the weekend.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)

NRA sues San Francisco over ‘terrorist organization’ label

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association (NRA) sued San Francisco on Monday, saying a declaration by the city’s Board of Supervisors that officials should limit businesses linked to the NRA because it is a “terrorist organization” was effectively a blacklist.

The confrontation follows heightened debate in the United States following a spate of mass shootings, including one last month at an El Paso Walmart in which 22 people were killed and about 24 wounded in the city near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The NRA, a gun club and gun rights lobbying group with deep political influence, alleged in the suit that the city was violating its free speech rights for political reasons.

“This lawsuit comes with a message to those who attack the NRA: We will never stop fighting for our law-abiding members and their constitutional freedoms,” Wayne LaPierre, the group’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The resolution declares: “The National Rifle Association is a domestic terrorist organization’ whose advocacy is a direct cause of arming “individuals who would and have committed acts of terrorism”.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani of the San Francisco board was confident the measure to limit city and county officials working with companies doing business with the NRA would stand up in court, according to the New York Times.

“It’s a resolution, it’s not an ordinance, it’s non-binding,” she told the newspaper.

It requires government officials to “assess the financial and contractual relationships with our vendors and contractors have with [the NRA],” and to “take every reasonable step to limit those entities who do business with the City and County of San Francisco.” It does not go into effect unless signed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

The suit asks the court to “instruct elected officials that freedom of speech means you cannot silence or punish those with whom you disagree.”

“The Resolution does not try to hide it animus towards the NRA’s political speech, nor its animating purpose: to remove the NRA from the gun control debate,” said the suit, filed on Monday in the District Court for the Northern District of California.

Neither city officials nor a representative for the NRA were immediately available for comment.

(This has been refiled to fix typo in the lead.)

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Paul Tait and Philippa Fletcher)

FBI opens domestic terror investigation into Gilroy, Calif., mass shooting

FILE PHOTO: A painting by Gilroy resident Ignacio "Nacho" Moya on the stage at a vigil for those who died and were injured at the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival a day earlier, in Gilroy, California, U.S. July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The FBI has opened a domestic terrorism investigation into a California mass shooting by a 19-year-old gunman who killed three people at a food festival last week, officials said on Tuesday.

Authorities have said they still do not know what motivated Santino William Legan, 19, to fire an assault-style rifle into a crowd in Gilroy, California, on July 28. His victims included a 6-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl.

Police officers exchanged gunfire with Legan, who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest, and struck him, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said at a news conference on Tuesday. Legan killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

Investigators have discovered he kept a list that appeared to have targets of violence, John Bennett, the FBI agent in charge in the San Francisco office, told the news conference.

One of those potential targets was the one he attacked, the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, Bennett said. The decades-old event celebrates produce from California’s countryside and is held about 70 miles (110 km) south of San Francisco.

“The shooter appeared to have an interest in varying, competing violent ideologies,” Bennett told reporters.

“Due to the discovery of the target list, as well as other information we have encountered in this investigation, the FBI has opened a full domestic terrorism investigation into this mass shooting.”

RACIST TREATISE

Before the shooting, Legan had posted on his Instagram page a photograph showing a sign warning of a high danger of forest fires. Its caption urged people to read “Might is Right,” a racist and sexist treatise written in the 19th century.

FBI investigators are considering Legan’s Instagram posts as they seek to determine his motivation and are exploring whether he was motivated by white nationalism, Bennett said.

Legan’s target list, which he kept on at least one digital device, had organizations from across the country and included religious institutions and political organizations affiliated with both the Democratic and Republican parties, Bennett said.

Legan left no manifesto, Bennett said, declining to provide other details on his ideological leanings.

Legan fired 39 rounds and the three officers who confronted him fired 18, Smithee said, and Legan had more than 200 rounds of ammunition on or near his body.

Legan’s family in a statement on Tuesday apologized to the families of the three people he killed and to the wounded, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We have never and would never condone the hateful thoughts and ideologies that led to this event, and it is impossible to reconcile this with the son we thought we knew,” the statement said.

Members of Legan’s family could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis)

Prosecutors charge Texas shooting suspect with murder, seek death penalty

People pray during a vigil a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – A single capital murder charge was filed on Sunday against the man accused of killing 20 people and wounding more than two dozen others at a Walmart store in El Paso, mass shooting authorities are viewing as a case of domestic terrorism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Saturday’s rampage in the heavily Hispanic city appeared to be a hate crime. Police cited an anti-immigrant screed posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

It was the second of three separate public shooting sprees carried out in the United States in the span of a week, an unusually dense cluster of massacres that prompted fresh alarm in a country accustomed to reports of young men shooting down strangers.

The County of El Paso’s state court website lists a single charge of capital murder against Crusius, a 21-year-old white man from Allen, Texas.

His grandparents, with whom Crusius had recently been living, said they were devastated by the attack.

“He lived with us in our house in Allen, Texas, while he attended Collin College,” the statement said, read aloud by a family friend to reporters outside the home on Sunday. “He moved out of our house six weeks ago, and has spent a few nights here while we were out of town.”

The single charge is likely a legal place holder to keep Crusius in custody until further charges can be filed against him for each of the dead and the wounded.

It was unclear if Crusius has a lawyer or when a bond hearing or other court appearances will occur.

A state prosecutor said prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Crusius if he is found guilty.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement on Sunday the attack “underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes.”

The agency said it remains concerned that more U.S.-based extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.

The U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, John Bash, said federal authorities were treating the El Paso massacre as a case of domestic terrorism.

“And we’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is to deliver swift and certain justice,” he told a news conference on Sunday. He said the attack appeared “to be designed to intimidate a civilian population, to say the least.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel on July 23 that the bureau has recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects in the preceding nine months and that most investigations of that kind involve some form of white supremacy.

BACK-TO-BACK SHOOTINGS

The Texas rampage was followed just 13 hours later by another mass shooting, and came a week after a man shot dead three people at a California garlic festival before he was killed by police.

In Dayton, Ohio a gunman in body armor and a mask killed nine people in less than a minute and wounded 27 others in the city’s downtown historic district before he was shot dead by police.

Democratic candidates for next year’s presidential election called on Sunday for stricter gun laws and accused President Donald Trump of stoking racial tensions.

Trump has frequently derided many asylum seekers and other immigrants coming across the U.S. southern border as liars and criminals. At a political rally he held in May, after asking the crowd what could be done about immigrants coming in illegally, Trump smiled and joked after someone in the crowd yelled back: “Shoot them!”

Responding to the shootings, Trump called on lawmakers to pass new background checks laws for buying guns, and suggested any such legislation might also include greater restrictions on immigration.

“We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!” he wrote on Twitter on Monday morning ahead of planned remarks on the subject. On Sunday, he attributed the shootings to what he called the “mental illness” of the killers.

SIGNS OF HATE

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was cooperating with investigators.

“He basically didn’t hold anything back,” Allen said at Sunday’s news conference but declined to elaborate.

Police said the suspect opened fire with a rifle on shoppers, many of them bargain-hunting for back-to-school supplies, then surrendered to officers who confronted him outside the store.

A police spokesman said on Sunday that the names of the victims would be released only when relatives had been informed, and he said he had no estimate for how long that would take.

Crusius comes from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies along the Rio Grande across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez.

A four-page statement posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

It also expressed for support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

The rampage in El Paso on Saturday was the eighth most deadly mass shooting in recent years in the United States.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Jonathan Allen in New York, Keith Coffman in Denver, Tim Reid in Las Vegas, Mark Hosenball in London, Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City, Daniel Trotta in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Zieminski)

Times Square driver who mowed down pedestrians denies guilt

FILE PHOTO: A vehicle that struck pedestrians and later crashed is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The man accused of killing a woman and injuring 22 others by using his car to cut a three-block swath through the crowded sidewalks of New York’s Times Square denied all charges on Thursday related to the May attack, prosecutors said.

Richard Rojas, 26, pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, second degree attempted murder and first and second degree assault, prosecutors said. A grand jury indicted him on May 24.

Rojas, a Navy veteran, drove his Honda sedan down Seventh Avenue on May 18 and made a U-turn, mowing down pedestrians on sidewalks for three city blocks before crashing, prosecutors said. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old woman visiting from Michigan, was killed, while 22 other pedestrians suffered various injuries, some serious.

After the car crashed, the driver was subdued by onlookers and police as he tried to flee on foot.

Rojas previously told the New York Post in a tearful jailhouse interview shortly after the crash that he had unsuccessfully sought psychiatric care and had no recollection of the incident.

He was believed to be under the influence of some intoxicating substance, a police source previously told Reuters, while law enforcement officials told ABC News he was apparently high on synthetic marijuana.

Rojas has had numerous run-ins with the law over the past decade, according to Navy and public court records. He has had at least four prior arrests, including two for drunken driving and one for allegedly threatening a man with a knife outside his apartment in New York City’s Bronx borough.

While serving in the Navy in 2013, he spent two months in a military jail in South Carolina, though records do not disclose the reason.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Wife of Orlando shooter could face charges soon

Gunshot survivor Angel Santiago recounts his story at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando

By Letitia Stein and Julia Edwards

ORLANDO, Fla./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub could face criminal charges as early as Wednesday after a federal grand jury was convened to study possible wrongdoing by her, a law enforcement source said.

Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, knew of his plans for what became the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, said the law enforcement source, who has been briefed on the matter.

U.S. Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which received a briefing on the investigation into Sunday’s massacre, told CNN it appeared Salman had “some knowledge” of what was going on.

“She definitely is, I guess you would say, a person of interest right now and appears to be cooperating and can provide us with some important information,” King said.

Salman was with Mateen when he cased possible targets in the past two months, including the Disney World resort in April, a shopping complex called Disney Springs and the Pulse nightclub in early June, CNN and NBC reported.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was due to open a family assistance center at a stadium on Wednesday where those directly affected by the tragedy will be able to get information, support and other resources, city officials said.

Mateen, who was shot dead by police SWAT team members after a three-hour standoff, called 911 during his rampage to profess allegiance to various militant Islamist groups.

Federal investigators have said he was likely self-radicalized and there was no evidence he received any help or instructions from outside groups such as Islamic State. Mateen, 29, was a U.S. citizen, born in New York of Afghan immigrant parents and worked as a security guard.

“He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized,” President Barack Obama told reporters.

Salman’s mother, Ekbal Zahi Salman, lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Rodeo, California, about 25 miles (40 km) north of San Francisco. A neighbor said Noor Salman only visited her mother once after she married Mateen.

Noor Salman’s mother “didn’t like him very much. He didn’t allow her (Noor) to come here,” said neighbor Rajinder Chahal. He said he had spoken to Noor Salman’s mother after the Orlando attack and she “was crying, weeping.”

“I’M NEXT”

Mateen’s rampage at Pulse was systematic as he worked his way through the packed club shooting people who were already down, apparently to ensure they were killed, said Angel Colon, a wounded survivor.

“I look over and he shoots the girl next to me and I was just there laying down and thinking, ‘I’m next, I’m dead,'” he said.

Mateen shot him twice more, one bullet seemingly aimed for Colon’s head striking his hand, and another hitting his hip, Colon said at Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he is one of 27 survivors being treated.

Vigils continued on Tuesday in Orlando. Hundreds of students gathered to pray and sing in the evening at the University of Central Florida. They shone cellphone flashlights during a reading of the names of the dead including two alumni.

The shooting raised questions about how the United States should respond to violent extremists at home and abroad. The Federal Bureau of Investigation questioned Mateen in 2013 and 2014 for suspected ties to Islamist militants but was unable to verify that he posed a threat.

Obama slammed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, joining fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton in portraying Trump as unfit for the White House.

Trump criticized Obama for not using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe Islamist militants. Obama replied that using that label would not accomplish anything.

ISLAMIC STATE PLEDGE

Mateen made 911 calls from the club in which he pledged loyalty to the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose organization controls parts of Iraq and Syria.

“We could hear him talking to 911 saying that the reason why he’s doing this is because he wants America to stop bombing his country,” said Patience Carter, 20, who was trapped in a bathroom stall at the nightclub as Mateen prowled outside.

U.S. officials were investigating media reports that Mateen may have been gay but not openly so, and questioning whether that could have driven his attack, according to two people who have been briefed on the investigation and requested anonymity to discuss it.

Barbara Poma, the owner of the Pulse nightclub, speaking through a representative, denied reports Mateen had been a regular patron.

“Untrue and totally ridiculous,” spokeswoman Sara Brady said in an email when asked about the claim.

A former wife of Mateen, Sitora Yusufiy, said her ex-husband had facets of his life that he did not share with his family, such as drinking and going to nightclubs.

“He did have a different side to him that he could not open up to his father about,” Yusufiy told CNN. “It doesn’t surprise me that he might be gay.”

She has previously said he was mentally unstable and beat her and that she fled their home after four months of marriage.

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington, Barbara Liston, Bernie Woodall and Yara Bayoumy in Orlando, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wis., Zachary Fagenson in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Alexandria Sage in Rodeo, Calif.; Writing by Alistair Bell and Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Dominic Evans and Bill Trott)