Baker decries Orlando shooting, says no tie to Marathon bombers

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BOSTON – Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker highlighted steps being taken by law enforcement to increase security around Massachusetts on Monday and downplayed any connection between the Orlando, Florida, attacker and the brothers who carried out the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old who opened fire at gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday morning, killing 49 and injuring 53 others, referred to the Tsarnaev brothers as his “homeboys” during one of three 911 calls he made during the attack, according to the FBI, which also said “all evidence
collected to date shows no connection between Mateen and the Tsarnaev brothers.”

Baker said the reference to the marathon bombings had been addressed at the top of a call Sunday night with national security officials.

“At this point in time, there’s no reason to believe that there’s much to that other than he referenced it as something that had happened. It doesn’t appear that he had any direct connection to that at all,” Baker said.

Joined by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett, Baker spoke to the media late Monday morning, conveying his sympathy for the victims of an attack that he said hit “particularly close to home for me” because of his gay brother.

After speaking with his brother and other gay friends on Sunday, Baker said they felt that just as acceptance of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community appears to be improving in the country, something happens spurred by hatred.

“There’s no room for that here in the commonwealth or anywhere in society, and we should of course do all we can to resist that,” Baker said.

According to the FBI, Mateen had been previously interviewed by the FBI in 2013 over alleged “inflammatory” statements about family connections to Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed terror organization. He resurfaced on the FBI’s radar in 2014 again for comment made about terrorist activities, but in every case no connections were found, officials said.

“We do know that he raised the Tsarnaev brothers a couple years ago and there were a series of interviews and discussion directly with him by federal officials and they concluded at that point in time that there was no direct connect between him and them at all,” Baker said.

FBI Director James Comey said Monday the agency will review its own work, but doesn’t think there’s anything they should have done differently.

Comey, in a press conference, said the investigation so far had turned up “strong indications of radicalization” and inspiration from foreign fighters, but law enforcement does not believe at this time the plot was directed from outside the United States or that Mateen was operating as part of any network.

During the three calls with a 911 dispatcher Sunday, Mateen said he carried out the attack for the Islamic State, but also claimed solidarity with the Tsarnaev brothers, who were not inspired by ISIS, and a Florida man who was killed acting as a suicide bomber in Syria for the al Nusra front, a group at odds with ISIS, according to Comey.

“We’re working hard to understand the killer, and his motives, and his sources of inspiration,” Comey said. “We’re highly confident that this killer was radicalized, and at least in some part through the Internet.”

In addition to increased security presence at Logan Airport and on public transit, Baker said his administration has reached out to organizers of Pride Month activities to offer security or the assistance for upcoming events.

Bennett said he has a conference call planned Monday afternoon with the Gay Officers Action League and major-city chiefs of police to discuss ways state law enforcement can work with them without “making it in any way an uncomfortable experience.”

“I think this guy, based on early reports, hated with extreme prejudice people who are a part of the LGBT community,” Baker said, rejecting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s use of the tragedy to repeat calls for a ban on Muslims entering the country.

Asked specifically about Trump’s comments blaming President Barack Obama for weakness and suggesting that there’s “something going on” with Obama because he won’t use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” Baker rejected the politicization of the attack and any jump to conclusions about what motivated Mateen apart from homophobia.

“I think folks who are trying to use this horrible act, which is having enormously tragic consequences for dozens and dozens of people, as a tool in any kind of political fight from any side are not thinking straight about this at all,” Baker said.

In a statement on Monday, MassEquality Executive Director Deborah Shields said, “We are horrified that the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history took place in a gay nightclub during Pride month — a time when the LGBTQ community and its allies join together to celebrate our history and look ahead to a future when we hope everyone can live free from discrimination and violence. The fact that those who were killed and wounded were at the club on Latin night painfully highlights the racist violence faced by so many members of our community.”

Trump canceled a Boston fundraising lunch and rally in Portsmouth, N.H., after the shootings, but he went ahead with a speech at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, N.H., where he spoke about terrorism and national security.

On Trump, Baker continued: “I think everyone’s agreed that this is an act of terror, but with respect to, sort of, the ultimate motivation of this particular individual let’s have somebody take his laptop apart and a few other things and see what they can find out before we start drawing conclusions. And I think it’s inappropriate and just a mistake at this point in time, especially for anybody to be casting aspersions with less than perfect information, and I’ve said before I don’t think Donald Trump has the temperament to be president. I stand by that comment.”

The attack, which has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history, has also sparked renewed calls for stricter gun control at the national level after Mateen used an AR-15-style assault rifle to commit the violence.

During his press conference, Baker was asked whether he would support an expansion of the Massachusetts ban on assault weapons sales and possession to include the manufacturing of such weapons.

“I think that’s an issue for the investigation,” Baker said. “My view, at this point, is we have the toughest, some of the toughest depending on how you do the analysis, gun laws in the country and I support them. We have an assault weapons ban here for a reason and I think one of the questions that a lot of people are asking this morning is how did someone who had been investigated by the FBI, somebody who was known to the FBI, end up being allowed to purchase a gun, especially that gun in particular, in the first place,” Baker said.

After a terror attack in San Bernardino, California last year, Baker came out in support of a ban on gun sales to anyone on the FBI’s terrorism watch list.

Both the House and Senate observed a moment of silence Monday for the victims.

Rep. Paul Donato asked members to reflect on the “tragic deaths of our friends in Orlando” and pray for the victims, survivors and those who will “live with that situation for the rest of their lives.”

Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry said, “We stand as one community in solidarity with our gay and lesbian family members and friends,” and offered prayers for the families of Springfield native Stanley Manolo Almodovar III and KJ Morris of the Pioneer Valley who were killed in the attack.