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Orlando Shooter Update: Few Warning Signs Point To Radicalization


Federal agents and local police are fanning out across Florida to piece together the life of the man who opened fire on a gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday. While there's still much to do, they are struck by the fact that the shooter, Omar Mateen, doesn't seem to have exhibited any of the warning signs often associated with radicalization. They're exploring whether Mateen invoked ISIS's name not because he follows that group, but perhaps in hopes of getting more publicity for his attacks. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston joins us. Dina, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: And what's the latest you've been able to learn?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we've been talking to intelligence officials and investigators. And they're becoming, as you say, increasingly convinced that the motive for this attack had very little or maybe even nothing to do with ISIS. Al-Qaida- and ISIS-inspired attacks - typically they follow a very different pattern than what we've seen in this case. I mean, we know that during the attack, the gunman posted messages on Facebook saying he was doing this on behalf of ISIS. But officials have yet to find any of the precursors usually associated with radicalization.

With interviews - they've interviewed dozens of people who either knew him or had contact with Mateen. And they say they've yet to find any indication that he became noticeably more religious, which is one of the indicators of radicalization. He still was going to the same mosque. The way he dressed didn't change. His relationship with his family hadn't changed in any way. And these are all typically warning signs that parents and friends and educators are told to look for if they're worried someone they're close to is radicalizing. I mean, this isn't science, but in this case - so far, anyway - it doesn't appear that any of those precursors were there.

SIMON: So investigators are suggesting to you that Omar Mateen's post about ISIS might have been what amounted to a cover story for some other motive.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A cover story or maybe a story of convenience. I mean, among other things, they believe he may have invoked ISIS's name, as you said in the introduction, to get more publicity for the attack. They tell us that during the attack - and you'll remember there was three hours after the initial shooting and before police went into the club - he was searching the web to see if the Orlando shooting was getting publicity and trending on Twitter.

They've also been struck by how closely Mateen's biography adheres to profiles that they usually associate with typical mass shooters. He was bullied as a kid in school. He had well-documented behavioral problems. He was aggressive toward other kids. As he got older, things didn't get much better. He took steroids. He jumped from job to job. He had a history of domestic violence. And all these things together fit into a mass shooter's profile.

I mean, his first wife said he controlled every aspect of her life. He took her paychecks. He kept her in the house. He wouldn't let her talk to family. He used to beat her. And we understand that he was physically violent with his second wife, as well. And violence and control and power are often precursors to mass attacks.

SIMON: You know, as I don't have to tell you, it's difficult to use a word like motive when you're speaking of what are essentially senseless acts. But because we can't come up with a better term, do investigators think they've settled on a motive for what might have set off this attack?

TEMPLE-RASTON: I think it's too early in the investigation to say that they've set on a motive, but I'd say they're sort of leaning towards a particular narrative. And that narrative is that Mateen may have had some problems with his sexuality, maybe even had some latent attraction to men, and he lashed out at the gay community as a result. Investigators have been interviewing people who say they've seen Mateen in the Pulse nightclub where the shooting took place in the past. But they still haven't been able to find anyone in the gay community who had a sexual relationship with him.

And there are some reports that he was on gay hookup apps. And the FBI talked to a company called Grindr, which he might have used under an alias. But so far, the investigation has been inconclusive as to whether or not he was actually gay or had a gay relationship with somebody else.

SIMON: And quickly, Dina, Mateen's second wife is figuring in the investigation now?

TEMPLE-RASTON: She is. Officials provided some information and evidence to a standing grand jury. They are looking at whether or not she knew about the attack before it happened and whether or not she should be brought up on charges for doing that.

SIMON: Dian Temple-Raston, thanks so much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.