Omar Mateen swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi at least twice during a 911 call the night of his attack on a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Mateen made or received several calls during the massacre at Pulse nightclub, where he killed 49 people and wounded dozens more on June 12.
“My name is [sic] I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi of the Islamic State,” Mateen told the 911 operator.
The operator then asked: “Ok, What’s your name?”
“I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi may God protect him [Arabic], on behalf of the Islamic State,” Mateen responded.
Before the DOJ and FBI jointly released the transcript, the FBI published its own redacted version. However, the FBI omitted any mention of Baghdadi and the Islamic State in its text. This move proved to be controversial, leading the DOJ and FBI to publish a more complete transcript later in the day.
The screen shot below shows the transcript as it was initially presented to the public.
Mateen was quite obviously referring to Baghdadi and the Islamic State. In fact, US officials acknowledged Mateen’s stated allegiance the day after his heinous assault.
At a press briefing on June 13, for instance, FBI Director James Comey indicated that Mateen had made his loyalty to Baghdadi known. During his “calls” the night of the attack, Comey told reporters, Mateen “said he was doing this for the leader of ISIL, who he named and pledged loyalty to.” ISIL (or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is the US government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.
President Obama also mentioned Mateen’s loyalty oath during a statement on June 14. The president said Mateen was inspired by propaganda produced by the Islamic State and that he offered his fealty to it.
Mateen “took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet,” according to Obama. The president then cited the Islamic State’s repeated calls to attack in the West, explaining that Mateen “absorbed some of that and during his killing spree…pledged allegiance to ISIL.”
Therefore, the FBI’s initial redactions were pointless, regardless of the bureau’s motivations for omitting key words. Both Comey and Obama already explained to the public that Mateen had sworn allegiance to Baghdadi and the Islamic State.
Other references to the Islamic State
According to a timeline released by the FBI, Mateen made several other references to the Islamic State during three calls with the Orlando Police Department’s Crisis Negotiation Team. The calls began at 2:48 a.m. on June 12, just 13 minutes after the 911 call mentioned above. The last one ended just before 3:30 in the morning.
“In these calls, the shooter, who identified himself as an Islamic soldier, told the crisis negotiator that he was the person who pledged his allegiance to [omitted], and told the negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq and that is why he was ‘out here right now,'” the FBI’s timeline reads.
Iraq and Syria are home to the Islamic State’s so-called “caliphate.”
Mateen’s claim to be an “Islamic soldier” was likely a reference to the Islamic State too. Indeed, one of the group’s propaganda arms called Mateen a “soldier of the caliphate” within days of the attack. However, this does not mean that Mateen had any operational ties to the organization. The Islamic State has used the word “soldier” to describe both formal members and individual jihadists who act in its name.
It also appears from the FBI’s summary that Mateen mentioned his allegiance to Baghdadi during his calls with the crisis negotiation team. (The timeline omitted Baghdadi’s name after the words “pledged his allegiance to.”)
Mateen made some false claims to the crisis negotiator, saying there was “some vehicle outside that has some bombs.” This wasn’t true. He also claimed to be wearing a suicide vest, which also wasn’t true.
He described the supposed vest as the same kind they “used in France.” This was an obvious reference to the Islamic State terrorists who assaulted Paris in November 2015.
“In the next few days, you’re going to see more of this type of action going on,” Mateen told the crisis negotiation team.
He then hung up and, according to the FBI, “multiple attempts to get in touch with him were unsuccessful.”
But Mateen may have also professed his loyalty to Baghdadi on Facebook.
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican who chairs the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on June 15. In the letter, which was first reported by Fox News, Senator Johnson referred to several Facebook posts that have been attributed to Mateen.
“America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state..I pledge my alliance [sic] to abu bakr al Baghdadi..may Allah accept me,” Mateen apparently wrote in one post on June 12, either during or shortly before the attack.
Another Facebook post purportedly reads: “The real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west“ and “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes..now taste the Islamic state vengeance.” In what is believed to be his final post, Mateen threatened: “In the next few days you will see attacks from the Islamic state in the usa.”
According to Senator Johnson, his staff also “learned that in May 2016, Mateen used Facebook to search for information on the San Bernardino terrorists,” who acted in the Islamic State’s name. And, on June 4, Mateen entered the search words “Baghdadi Speech” on Facebook.
Therefore, the available evidence indicates that Mateen mentioned his loyalty to Baghdadi at least four times the night of the attack. Mateen pledged bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to Baghdadi twice during a 911 call, mentioned it at least once during his conversations with the crisis negotiation team, and also swore bay’ah in a post on Facebook.
Islamic State tells supporters to swear allegiance before dying
Not all of the available transcripts have been released to the public. That evidence certainly includes additional details on Mateen’s thinking.
In the days following Mateen’s murderous rampage, much of the media’s reporting has focused on his motivations. Some witnesses have come forward to say that Mateen himself was secretly gay, implying that he acted out because of his repressed or conflicted sexuality. This is possible, but “federal officials” told The New York Times “they have found no evidence in his effects or online presence to back” up claims Mateen was gay.
Other reports have pointed to the shooter’s disturbed, sometimes violent, past.
None of these characteristics would preclude Mateen from being a jihadist. The psychology of all humans, including ideologues, is complex. There is no reason to believe that jihadists are automatons motivated by ideology alone, without any other concerns or problems.
But on the night of June 12, Omar Mateen swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi repeatedly.
As The Long War Journal has reported, this is precisely what the Islamic State tells its followers to do. [See LWJ report, Why the Islamic State tells supporters to swear allegiance before dying.]
For example, the 12th issue of the group’s English-language magazine Dabiq, which was titled “Just Terror,” specifically told any would-be follower to “record his will, renew his bay’ah, carry the Khilafah banner, and strike the crusaders and their pagan and apostate allies wherever he can find them, even if he is alone.”
This passage was addressed to “every such muwahhid [Muslim who emphasizes the unity of Allah] barred from hijrah” — that is, every believer who cannot make his or her way to the lands of the “caliphate.” The Islamic State says that each individual should “purify himself of the branches of lesser hypocrisy that hold him back from performing jihad in his location.”
Therefore, not only does the Islamic State encourage supporters to carry out attacks in their home countries (a common motif), but also wants them to document their allegiance to the “caliphate.” This makes it easier for the organization to claim credit or inspiration for the violence, whether or not any of the group’s members instructed the individual terrorist beforehand.
Like the couple responsible for the attack in San Bernardino in December 2015, Omar Mateen followed these instructions, repeatedly making his bay’ah to Baghdadi known.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.