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The worst mass shooting in US history

US authorities on Monday were investigating whether a gunman who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando and declared his allegiance to Islamic State militants had received any help in carrying out the massacre. The FBI and other agencies were looking at evidence inside and in the closed-off streets around the Pulse nightclub, where New York-born Omar Mateen perpetrated the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and the worst attack on US soil since September 11, 2001. Mateen’s rampage began around 2 am Sunday when the club was packed with some 350 revelers. Many fled as the gunman raked the crowd with bullets from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a pistol. Authorities said on Sunday that Mateen had been twice questioned by FBI agents in 2013 and 2014 after making comments to co-workers about supporting militant groups, but neither interview led to evidence of criminal activity.

Omar Mateen travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012, Saudi Interior Ministry security spokesman Major General Mansour Turki said on Monday. He said Mateen performed the Umrah pilgrimage for 10 days in March 2011, and eight days the following March. However, a US official said the Saudis so far have not provided any evidence that Mateen made contact with known extremists during his visits to the kingdom, adding that anyone thought to be a threat is kept under surveillance by Saudi authorities, although that doesn’t mean they have a handle on everyone with radical views or contacts.

AFP reported that  Islamic State reiterated on Monday a claim of responsibility. “One of the Caliphate’s soldiers in America carried out a security invasion where he was able to enter a crusader gathering at a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando,” the group said in a broadcast on its Albayan Radio. The group’s claim of responsibility does not mean it directed the attack, as it offered nothing to indicate coordination with the gunman. The attack came six months after a married couple in California killed 14 people at an office holiday party in San Bernardino. The couple, who were inspired by IS, died in a shootout with police hours after the mass shooting.

Murderous violence at home has developed in parallel with unending wars abroad, with the US military continuously engaged since 2001 in invasions, bombings, drone strikes and “targeted assassinations” that have claimed the lives of over a million people in predominantly Muslim countries. Within the US itself, the most reactionary ideologies have been whipped up to justify discrimination and violence against immigrants in general and Muslims in particular, and to encourage the most backward homophobic sentiments.

In what has been described as the worst mass shooting in US history, a number of possible motivations and causes have been cited in the media for this crime, including homophobia, ties to Islamist extremists and mental illness. Suspicions about ties to extremism usually emerge in cases where the suspect is Muslim, as Mateen was. Presidential contestant Donald Trump wasted no time playing up his alleged links to religious militancy in a series of almost triumphal tweets declaring: “I told you so.”

Whatever conclusions the investigators reach, it is clear that Muslims in America will increasingly feel the heat because of this crime. Unfortunately, the law-abiding majority has to put up with the aftermath of the actions of the militant fringe. The community will have to brace itself for more scrutiny, especially if Muslim-baiters such as Mr Trump have their way, and if the shooter in the Orlando rampage does, in fact, prove to be a home-grown militant.

President Barack Obama made a typically empty speech from the White House on Sunday, declaring the mass killing “an act of terror and an act of hate.” Obama, who recently authorized an escalation of the nearly 15-year-old US war in Afghanistan while simultaneously overseeing US military interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere on the African continent, vowed that “we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”

Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state and the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, was even more explicit in exploiting the tragedy in Orlando to promote US militarism abroad and an escalation of attacks on democratic rights within the US itself. “For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad,” she said. “That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home.”

Her Republican rival, Donald Trump, pursued a slightly different tack, utilizing the Orlando massacre to bolster his promotion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry. He initially tweeted that if Obama failed to attribute the killings to “radical Islamic terrorism” he “should immediately resign in disgrace,” and that if Clinton failed to use the same words she should withdraw from the election. “Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen—and it is only going to get worse,” he said later in the day. “I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.”

These reactionary appeals are a warning of what is being prepared, no matter which party wins the 2016 presidential election. The aim of both the Democrats and Republicans is to intimidate, frighten and disorient the American people with the specter of terrorism in order to distract attention from the social crisis, shift the political debate to the right and prepare for both new wars and intensified attacks on the rights and conditions of the working class.

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