Violence and Contradictions on the Path to a Gay Nightclub

Violence and Contradictions on the Path to a Gay Nightclub

- in Politics


Omar Mateen was put on an F.B.I. watch list after making inflammatory comments to co-workers claiming connections to terrorists abroad.

WASHINGTON — When a young American man from coastal Florida drove a truck packed with explosives into a hilltop restaurant in Syria in May 2014, F.B.I. agents scoured his online postings and interviewed his contacts in Florida in a scramble to determine who, if anyone, might try to launch a similar attack inside the United States.

One of the people they spoke to was Omar Mateen, a young security guard from a nearby town who had attended the same mosque as the suicide bomber and had been on a terrorism watch list for incendiary comments he once made to co-workers at a local courthouse. But the F.B.I. soon ended its examination of Mr. Mateen after finding no evidence that he posed a terrorist threat to his community.

That hopeful conclusion was upended in a bloody spasm of violence early Sunday morning when Mr. Mateen fatally shot dozens of people at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., before being killed by police officers who stormed the club to end the standoff. The horrific events at the Pulse nightclub left 49 dead and have left family members, neighbors and federal investigators trying to piece together clues about what might have led Mr. Mateen, 29, to carry out such unspeakable violence.

The government investigation could take months, but an early examination of Mr. Mateen’s life reveals a hatred of gay people and a stew of contradictions. He was a man who could be charming, loved Afghan music and enjoyed dancing, but he was also violently abusive. Family members said he was not overly religious, but he was rigid and conservative in his view that his wife should remain mostly at home. The F.B.I director said on Monday that Mr. Mateen had once claimed ties to both to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah — two radical groups violently opposed to each other.

Investigators now face the question of how much the killings were the act of a deeply disturbed man, as his former wife and others described him, and how much he was driven by religious or political ideology. Whatever drove him to carry out the shootings, his actions highlight the difficulty for the American government in trying to address a new style of terrorism — random acts of violence that may have been at least partly inspired by the Islamic State but were not directed by the group’s leaders.

Unlike Al Qaeda, which favors highly organized and planned operations, the Islamic State has encouraged anyone to take up arms in its name, and uses a sophisticated campaign of social media to inspire future attacks by unstable individuals with little history of embracing radical Islam. President Obama said Monday that there was no evidence that the Islamic State actually directed Sunday’s attack, which would make Mr. Mateen’s case part of a pattern of domestic radicalization.

American officials have said that those under surveillance in the United States for possible ties to the group usually have little terrorism expertise or outside support, which makes thwarting an Islamic State-inspired attack less like stopping a traditional act of terrorism and more like trying to prevent a shooting at a school or movie theater.


Seddique Mir Mateen, the father of the nightclub gunman, Omar Mateen, said Monday that his son had committed an “act of terrorism.” Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The son of Afghan immigrants, Mr. Mateen was born in New York in 1986, moved to Florida with his family in 1991 and spent his early years there in the Port St. Lucie area near the state’s east coast. He made friends as a child at a local mosque, and built friendships during slumber parties and basketball games, and playing video games. He bounced between jobs in high school and college. In court documents connected to a 2006 name change — from Omar Mir Seddique to Omar Mir Seddique Mateen — he said he had held eight jobs in about four years, including work as a grocer and as a salesman at a computer store.

He earned an associate degree in criminal justice technology from Indian River State College in 2006, the year he began working for the Florida Department of Corrections at a facility just west of Port St. Lucie.

He left that job six months later, and within six months he had found work with G4S, a large private security company that has won large government contracts for work both in the United States and abroad. He was assigned to protect at least two properties during his years at the firm: PGA Village, a golf club, and the St. Lucie County Courthouse complex.

Mr. Mateen had a home in Fort Pierce, on the Atlantic Coast. On Monday morning, a reporter told the police that the house’s sliding glass back door was open. Officers went to the home and “discovered the door open, possibly by force, creating suspicion of a burglary,” a police spokesman said. “Detectives will follow up to determine if, in fact, it was a burglary.”

Mr. Mateen met his future wife, Sitora Yusufiy, on MySpace in 2008. Both were on the site looking for love and eventually marriage, and she was drawn to him because of his alluring and funny messages.

During an interview Monday at her home in Boulder, Colo., Ms. Yusufiy said he seemed perfect — American enough for her free spirit and Muslim enough to please her traditional family.

“This man was a simple, Americanized guy that was also from my culture. And, you know, had the same religion,” she said. “So I was like, O.K., this could potentially satisfy my parents.”

Orlando Regional Medical Center

Site of shooting

Pulse nightclub

Orlando Regional

Medical Center

Site of shooting

Pulse nightclub

Orlando Regional Medical Center

Site of shooting

Pulse nightclub

She moved to Florida, and they married in a quiet courthouse ceremony in 2009, but the short-lived marriage was marred by violence and isolation, she said. She had no friends or family in Florida, and Mr. Mateen preferred that she stay in the house.

She said he sometimes returned from work angry and agitated, including one night when she fell asleep on the floor waiting for him to return home.

“All I remember is being woken up by a pillow being taken from under my head,” she said. “I hit my head on the ground and then he started pulling my hair.”

“He almost killed me,” she said. “Because he started choking me. And I somehow got out of it and I tried to tackle him.”

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