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Obama says no evidence Orlando killer directed from overseas
[WASHINGTON] US President Barack Obama said the gunman who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub was inspired by extremist propaganda but there's no evidence so far that he was directed by anyone overseas or was part of any larger group.
Mr Obama, speaking Monday at the White House after meeting with FBI Director James Comey, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Vice President Joe Biden, and top counterterrorism officials, said the killer was the kind of homegrown terrorist that authorities have long feared.
"It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was being distributed on the internet," Mr Obama said. He said there was "no clear evidence he was directed externally" and "no direct evidence he was part of a larger plot."
The shooting suspect, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, had twice been interviewed by the FBI. The agency said it interviewed Mr Mateen in 2013 because it was told he had made inflammatory remarks about having terrorist ties and again in 2014 because of a connection to an American who went to fight with the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIL.
The gunman called 911 moments before the shooting and spoke about the Islamic State, Ronald Hopper, an FBI assistant special agent in charge of the bureau's Orlando office, said at a news conference.
Family members described the American son of an Afghan immigrant as mentally unstable and driven by anti-gay sentiments.
Mr Obama said Mr Mateen was able to legally obtain the weapons used in the shooting - a Glock pistol and an AR-15 rifle - because he had no criminal record. He said authorities don't yet understand Mr Mateen's motive or why he chose to target a gay nightclub.
"Here's what we do know," he said. "Organisations like ISIL or organizations like al-Qaeda or those who have perverted Islam and created these nihilistic, vicious organisations, one of the groups they target are gays and lesbians because they believe that they do not abide by their attitudes toward sexuality."
On Sunday, the White House announced the president was postponing his plans to campaign with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Mrs Clinton, in a post to her Facebook account, said the US needed to "redouble our efforts" against terrorism and called for stricter controls on gun purchases.
"We need to keep guns like the ones used last night out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals," Mrs Clinton said.
Mr Obama said the US must ensure that it's not easy for people who intend to cause harm to obtain the sorts of weapons Mr Mateen purchased.
"The fact that we make it this challenging for law enforcement for example even to get alerted that somebody they are watching has purchased a gun, and if they do get alerted sometimes it is hard for them to stop them from getting a gun, is crazy," Mr Obama said.
Senate Democrats said they might offer an amendment to a spending bill for the departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as science programs, that would prohibit people on the government's terrorist watch list from purchasing guns and explosives.
Under the proposal, the US attorney general could have placed Mr Mateen on the list based on the FBI's two interviews with him, if there was a "reasonable belief" he would use a gun in an act of terrorism, said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is co-sponsoring the measure.
"In the wake of Orlando, we need to think of what kind of a country and what kind of a Senate we need to be," Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said on Monday.
"We're going to push to finally close the terrorism gap once and for all."
Senate Republicans blocked a similar measure in December, after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people. Mr Mateen was not on the government's no-fly list, according to a US official familiar with the matter. It's unclear whether he was on any other terrorism-related watch list.
Mrs Clinton's Republican opponent, Donald Trump, said in a post to Twitter that the president should resign because he has refused "to even say the words 'Radical Islam'" in connection with the attack.
"If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore," Mr Trump said. The nominee also said he appreciated "the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism."
The FBI is planning to update reporters on its investigation later Monday afternoon. The president is expected to discuss additional efforts to combat the Islamic State on Tuesday during a visit to the Treasury Department, part of a regular series of trips to the departments and agencies across the government focused on combating the terrorist group.