Orlando shooter tied to radical Islamic teacher, Fox reports
By NBP Staff | June 13, 2016, 15:03 EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. – The shooter who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub while proclaiming his loyalty to Islamic State was reportedly enrolled in an online Muslim school run by an ex-Marine who preached against homosexuality and encouraged at least one follower to train for terrorist actions.
Omar Mateen, 29, the American son of Afghan immigrants who died after a bloody three-hour siege at the Pulse club, was a student in an Islamic seminary in Orlando now called Timbuktu, set up and run by Marcus Dwayne Robertson, according to Fox News, which cited law enforcement sources it didn’t name. To participants in the seminary, Robertson, 47, is known as Abu Taubah, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
A federal judge released Robertson from prison last year, despite warnings from federal prosecutors the he had been “involved with terrorism activities,” Fox reported, saying Robertson had been “focused on training others to commit violent acts.” Robertson has repeatedly denied being involved with terrorist activities, Fox said.
The television news network also said a source told it that Robertson and a number of associates had been brought in for questioning hours after Mateen’s attack, but police and Robertson’s lawyer wouldn’t confirm or deny the report. Robertson refers to homosexuals as “devil worshippers,” according to Heavy.com, an online news site.
During several years Robertson served in prison on firearms and tax fraud charges, authorities had him placed in solitary confinement out of concern he was trying to radicalize fellow inmates, Fox reported. The network said Robertson came to the attention of federal authorities in 1991 as the leader of a bank-robbery gang that hit more than 10 banks and other targets, shooting three police officers in the process.
Fox also said Robertson served as a bodyguard for Omar Adbel Rahman, known as the Blind Sheik, an Egyptian-born cleric convicted of inciting terrorist acts, including plots to bomb New York’s World Trade Center in 1993, the United Nations and the George Washington Bridge, after he moved to the United States in 1990. Rahman, who consulted with Osama bin Laden mentor Abdullah Azzam, is serving a life sentence in a federal prison, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has said.
Citing 2011 wiretaps, prosecutors said the recording showed that Robertson counseled one student, Jonathan Paul Jimenez, to obtain a tax refund by filing a false return and use the money to travel to Mauritania for terrorism training, Fox reported. Jimenez is now in federal prison on tax fraud and other charges, the network said.
Robertson’s lawyer, Corey Cohen, told the network that his client “never taught or condoned violence.”
Mateen worked as a security guard and was licensed to possess firearms. He carried an assault-style rifle and a handgun into the Pulse to commit his atrocities before being shot dead by police.
President Barack Obama described Mateen’s actions as acts of “hate” and “terror,” but said no decisions had been reached by investigators into Mateen’s “precise motivations.” In a statement to reporters Monday, Obama said it was “certainly an example of the kind of home-grown extremism” that has long concerned authorities.
In a statement Monday, James Comey, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Mateen had exhibited “strong indications of radicalization” and had twice been investigated by the agency, including during a 10-month period that began in 2013. At one point Mateen claimed family connections to al-Qaeda and that he was a member of Hezbollah, which Comey said “is a Shia terrorist organization that is a bitter enemy of the so-called Islamic State,” the Associated Press reported.
In 2014, the agency looked into potential ties between Mateen and Moner Mohammad Abusalha, another resident of Fort Pierce, Florida, where Mateen lived, Radio Liberty reported on its website. Abusalha carried out a suicide truck-bomb attack in Syria and had appeared in a video released by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, the U.S. government-supported service said, citing FBI agent Ronald Hopper.
Both Mateen and Abusalha had attended the same mosque in Fort Pierce.
But the FBI determined that contact between Mateen and Abusalha “was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or a threat at that time,” Hopper said. But Mateen claimed solidarity both with Abusalha and with the Tsarnaev brothers who perpetrated the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
Mateen was born in New York and raised in Florida, where he graduated from high school and junior college with a degree in law enforcement, Radio Liberty said. In 2009, He married Sitora Alisherzoda Yusufiy, a Uzbekistan immigrant in the U.S. who told the Washington Post she met Mateen online. After moving to Florida and marrying him, they lived in a condominium owned by Mateen’s parents for several months before splitting, Radio Liberty said, citing the Post.
Yusufiy told the newspaper that her family rescued her from an abusive relationship with Mateen, who she said beat her frequently, Radio Liberty reported.