Reuters reported that a gunman killed 50 people and injured 53 in a massacre at a nightclub in the tourist hub of Orlando, Florida, early on Sunday, the city's mayor and police said, in an attack U.S. authorities are described as a "terrorism incident."
The shooter was identified as Omar S. Mateen, a man that a senior FBI official said might have had leanings towards Islamic State militants. Officials cautioned that the Islamist tie required further investigation.
The death toll given by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to reporters made the attack the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, eclipsing the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech university, which left 32 dead.
Fox News earlier reported that a gunman who US federal authorities say had possible ties to terrorism opened fire early Sunday morning at a packed Florida nightclub, killing approximately 20 people and wounding scores more in a bloody scene that ended hours later when police stormed the building and killed the suspect.
The shooting in Orlando at Pulse night club which was packed with more than 300 people, was reported minutes after 2 a.m. Sunday. In addition to those killed inside the club, at least 42 people were taken to area hospitals. Dozens of party-goers remained hostages in the club for several hours after the initial shooting, prompting SWAT teams to pour inside. Shortly after 6 a.m. local time, Orlando police tweeted that the gunman had been killed.
The gunman, whose identity was not immediately released, “may have leanings” toward radical Islam, FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Harper said when asked by Fox News whether the suspect had ties to Jihadist terror groups. Harper said the investigation is looking into possible threats made previously by the suspect in connection to radical Islam groups. He said the agency is still investigating and has yet to confirm any role a terror group may have played in the mass shooting.
“There are allegations the individual made threats in the past to having ties to terrorist organizations,” Harper told Fox News.
The incident “is being investigated as an act of terrorism,” said Danny Banks, special agent in charge at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who added that “around 20” people are believed dead inside the nightclub.
Banks said the suspected shooter – who was armed with an “assault-type rifle” and a handgun -- also was dead inside the club, where he was shot and killed at around 5 a.m. in a shootout with SWAT team officers who were called in “to rescue hostages,” Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department said.
Mina said officers were engaged in a gun battle outside the club before the suspect went back into the building, where more shots were fired. He said the gunman then took several hostages.
"It appears he was organized and well-prepared," the chief said, adding that the shooter had an assault-type weapon, a handgun and "some type of (other) device on him."
At least 9 officers were involved in raiding the nightclub, and one officer was injured, according to Banks. The injured officer was hit by a bullet and his Kevlar helmet saved his life, Banks said.
Source: Reuters, Fox News, 12 June 2016