Events Leading to the Attack
The Pulse nightclub gun attack that occurred on 12 June, 2016 was the worst terror attack after the September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda attack. The attack was planned and executed by a 29-year old Omar Mateen. The events leading to the attack gave indications that Omar was planning an attack on United States soil either as an individual or in group. In May 2013, Omar made inflammatory remarks at his workplace that indicated that he was a Sympathizer of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah terror groups. He was entered into the FBI list of possible terror sympathizers currently residing in the United States (Solnit, 2016).
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An investigation into his activities was launched and it was established that he had no links with the terror groups at that time. He was subsequently struck off that list, which meant that he was no longer under tight watch. Two weeks prior to the attack, he started making purchases of heavy weapons that should have raised alarm. He purchased SIG MCX rifle and a Glock 17 handgun. According to Bergen (2016), it is not abnormal for a person to purchase such heavy semi-automatic rifles, but sometimes their background check may be necessary to ensure that they are not radicalized individuals. In this case, very heavy weapons were sold to a person who had been on the FBI list as a sympathizer of terror groups.
Within that same week of the attack, he tried to purchase body armor, another red flag that authorities should have detected given that he had just purchased heavy weapons. He also tried to purchase 1,000 rounds of bulk ammunition but the store attendants got suspicious and failed to sell the ammunition to him (Solnit, 2016). It is reported that the salesman at the store contacted the FBI to report the issue. However, no immediate action was taken. It is reported that Omar started visiting public places that were often popular, taking special interest with places that had limited security. The strongest indication of the intent of Omar to attack innocent Americans came on early morning on the day of the attack when Omar made a Facebook post account stating that the United States will taste the vengeance of ISIL. This left no doubt about the intention of Omar. It was clear, from the posts on his Facebook account, that he was either planning an attack or knew about people planning to attack the country.
The Success of the Attack
At about 2 in the morning of June 12, 2016, Omar walked into Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and began shooting indiscriminately at the patrons. The club, which is often frequented by LGBT people, had a considerably high number of patrons that particular night. About 20 minutes later, he called 911 and pledged allegiance to Islamic State and praised a number of terrorists who had died in the past either through suicide bombing or murdered because of their terror activities. It was apparent that the attack found the authorities completely unaware. As he was shooting, he made two other calls demanding that the United States troops should leave Afghanistan.
He also called The Washington Post and News 13, identifying himself as a Mujahedeen fighting for the liberation of the Islamic nations from the control of the United States. A gun battle between Omar and the police ensued almost two hours after the attack. In the attack, it was clear that he had no intention of surrendering to the police. He was ready to die in the process and was keen on ensuring that he kills as many people during the attack as possible. The gun battle went on for about one hour, and at about 5 in the morning, he was brought down by the law-enforcement forces. 49 people died during the gun battle, and another 53 people sustained varying degrees of injury.
It was the deadliest attack on the United States soil that primarily targeted LGBT people. The investigation that followed indicated that although the Omar was heavily influenced by the activities of ISIL and other terror organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, he never made direct contact with these groups and was never assisted in any way to plan and execute his attack. He had organized this attack as an individual and executed it without any form of assistance.
Law Enforcement and Intelligence Roles in Preventing Such Attacks
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the primary role in preventing terror attacks before they can claim the lives of innocent citizens. According to Bergen (2016), identifying the footprint of a terrorist is the primary responsibility of the intelligence agencies. It was great that the FBI was able to single Omar out as a possible sympathizer to such terror groups as Al-Qaeda. Warrick (2015) says that for one to be a sympathizer of a terror group there must be a strong personal conviction within that individual that makes him or her believe that actions of such terrorists are justified.
Such sympathizers never change their mind easily as long as the terror groups they support remain focused on their original vision. Once a person is classified as having links to terror groups or being their sympathizer, it should be important for the intelligence agencies to share the information with law enforcement agencies, especially the local Sheriffs who are capable of monitoring the moves of such individuals. It took only one year for the FBI to take Omar off its list of terror suspects. Simms (2015) advises that once the intelligence agencies are convinced about the possible involvement of an individual in terror activities, it should take a minimum of about ten years for him or her to be taken off such a list based on the past incidences that have been witnessed.
According to Bergen (2016), fighting terror can never be the responsibility of the intelligence agencies alone. When these forces work independently, they may fail to concentrate their effort, and that maybe the advantage needed by these terror suspects to commit their crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency must share intelligence, especially on issues of terrorism. These agencies should then find ways of sharing such sensitive information with local law enforcement agencies. For instance, if an individual is suspected to be having links with terror groups or is a sympathizer, the local Sheriffs should be informed so that their actions can be closely monitored at all times.
The intelligence agencies should make an effort and ensure that the online activities of such individuals are closely monitored. Preston (2013) says that sometimes people would try to justify their actions in case they are planning to commit an offence that may raise public attention. This is specifically the case when they are aware that they may not make it alive, as is always the case with suicide bombers. These terrorists know they have to make their case before acting because they may not have any other opportunity to do so (Sherman & Wedge, 2015). This was the case with Omar and the intelligence agencies failed to detect the threat as posted on the Facebook account of this individual.
Lessons from the Attack
The attack left a number of lessons that intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities should learn from to ensure that future attacks are thwarted before innocent lives are lost. The first lesson is that once an individual is taken into the records of intelligence agencies as a terror suspect, he or she should remain under surveillance for as long as possible. Even if it is determined that such an individual does not have direct links with terror groups, authorities should monitor the activities of that individual for about eight to ten years.
It is clear from this case that intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities should coordinate their operations when handling cases of terror activities. Once the intelligence has been gathered, the law enforcement agencies should be informed about the threat so that appropriate action can be taken to avert the threat. The law enforcement officers should always monitor both online and physical activities of terror suspects. If the authorities were monitoring the online activities of Omar, his dangerous posts on Facebook account would have been read and an arrest would have been made before the attack. When the intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities coordinate their activities, acts of terrorism in the country will be uncommon.
Bergen, P. L. (2016). United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s homegrown terrorists. Hoboken, NJ: Springer.
Preston, K. (2013). Attack the system: A new anarchist perspective for the 21st century. New York, NY: Black House Publishing Lt.
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Sherman, C., & Wedge, D. (2015). Boston strong: A city’s triumph over tragedy. Beirut, Lebanon: ForeEdge.
Simms, B. (2015). The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Solnit, R. (2016). Hope in the dark: Untold histories, wild possibilities. New York, NY: Cengage.
Warrick, J. (2015). Black flags: The rise of ISIS. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Publishers.