ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando massacre at a popular gay nightclub shows no one yet has “found the magic bullet” to prevent Americans from being inspired to violence by jihadist propaganda on the Internet, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday as she visited a city still shaken by the shootings.
The case underscores the challenges the government faces in countering the narrative of radical extremism, Lynch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
At the scene of the carnage, workers removed a temporary fence that was erected around the Pulse nightclub. State officials wondered how they would pay for resources drained by the June 12 massacre, and investigators kept probing for gunman Omar Mateen’s motives for the rampage, in which 49 people were killed and dozens more wounded. Mateen died in a gunbattle with police.
Lynch said investigators may never pinpoint a single motive and not have not discounted witness reports suggesting Mateen might have been at Pulse before or had gay tendencies.
“We are still looking into that, and we are not ruling anything out,” she said.
In a 911 call from the club, Mateen pledged solidarity with the Islamic State group, and Lynch said there’s no doubt he had read and been interested in extremist propaganda on the Internet.
“We believe that is certainly one avenue of radicalization, but we want to know if there are others,” she said in the interview.
“This was clearly an act of terror and an act of hate,” she told reporters later.
She called the rampage a “shattering attack, on our nation, on our people and on our most fundamental ideals.”
While in Orlando, Lynch visited a memorial, praised the actions of first responders and met with victims’ relatives and with prosecutors.
Lynch also directly addressed the LGBT community, saying, “We stand with you to say that the good in the world far outweighs the evil … and that our most effective response to terror and hatred is compassion, unity and love.”
Her remarks at a news conference followed briefings by U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley and other law enforcement officials, including prosecutors assigned to the investigation.
Lynch’s meeting with first responders came as Orlando police faced continued questions about their response.
On Monday, police Chief John Mina said that if any fire from responding officers hit victims at the club, Mateen bears the responsibility. “Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind,” he said.
Lynch said the Justice Department will provide Florida $1 million in emergency funds to help with response costs. Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott had complained that Washington had turned down his request for $5 million to help pay for the state’s response.
Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said its disaster fund was not an “appropriate source” to pay for law enforcement response, medical care and counseling for victims of a shooting.
More clues emerged about the attack Monday when the FBI released a partial transcript of phone calls Mateen had with a 911 operator and police crisis negotiators once the shooting got underway.
In them, he identified himself as an Islamic soldier, demanded that the U.S. “stop bombing” Syria and Iraq, warned of future violence and at one point pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, the FBI said.
Despite his declarations, the FBI says it’s found no evidence the attack was directed by a foreign terrorist organization. Mateen instead appears to have become radicalized through online jihadist propaganda, officials say, an influence that openly worries law enforcement.
Mateen’s calls to police, which one FBI official said were made in a “chilling, calm and deliberate manner” were similar to postings he apparently made on Facebook around the time of the shooting.
“I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings,” Mateen said in one call that came more than a half-hour after the first shots rang out, the FBI said.
The shootings have fostered discussion about government efforts to identify and thwart individuals bent on violence — Mateen had been interviewed by the FBI three times since 2013 as part of two separate investigations and placed on a terror watch list — and also about whether stiffer gun control laws are needed. The Senate on Monday rejected proposals from both parties to keep extremists from acquiring guns, including one that was publicly supported by the Justice Department.