Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When we first heard about the shooting at the popular LGBT Orlando club, Pulse, late Sunday night, it was thought to be the worst mass shooting in American history. Shortly after, it became clear that this was not only the deadliest mass shooting incident in history, it was also the most severe terror attack on American soil since September 11, 2001.
The terror attack was the second of its kind in recent months. Just half a year ago, a married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and injured 22 at a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health holiday party in California. Malik had been a health department employee.
The killer in the Orlando attack, Omar Mateen, had no connection to the nightclub he shot up. Minutes before entering, he called 911 and stated that he swore his allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS has made its beliefs on the LGBT community clear, calling for the death of all homosexuals.
The attack is reminiscent of the terror attacks in Tel Aviv this past year: the New Year’s Day Dizengoff shooting, last week’s Sarona Market shooting, as well as international terror attacks, including the Brussels airport attack and the Paris shootings.
All of these attacks have commonalities. They were carried out by young marginalized Muslims who disagree with western values of self-indulgence, become religious extremists and choose to take matters into their own hands. They are ready to kill themselves for the cause. In other words: suicide. They arrive at the scene of the attacks with weapons and determination, taking inspiration from ISIS, to kill as many people as possible.
They choose symbols of Western cultures, places ISIS sees as decadent: the streets of central Tel Aviv, a music club, a football stadium in Paris and now an LGBT club. They aim to shock western culture, killing indiscriminately.
Like Paris and Brussels, and maybe even Tel Aviv, Orlando exposed the weaknesses of defense and intelligence systems. True, intelligence can’t expose every plan, especially not those carried out by individuals acting alone. The attack in Orlando shows that with improved intelligence this attack and others could have been prevented.
The shooter’s name could have been found on a list of suspects already investigated by the FBI, a list featuring several thousand people thought to be potentially dangerous. Mateen, born in New York to Afghani parents, was on the list not because of his background, but due to intelligence information gathered against him.
Mateen was interviewed by the FBI in 2013 and 2014, yet the agency decided the interviews proved inconclusive. Despite the FBI’s investigations, Mateen passed a security course and was licensed to purchase and own guns. In his case it would be difficult to place the blame on the Second Amendment, which gives every American the right to carry a weapon. In America you can purchase weapons in department stores, but Mateen was far more dangerous than the everyday American.
Now, the FBI and other US law enforcement authorities will face harsh public criticism for their failures to catch Mateen before he could strike. Republican nominee Donald Trump is using this attack for political benefit at a time when his support is declining. Had Orlando had been just a hate crime, it would have strengthened Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in her fight to restrict gun sales. Trump however is basing his campaign on hatred of foreigners, of Muslims in particular, having already suggested blocking their entrance into America.
President Barak Obama has promised to protect the security of American citizens, a mantra voiced by Israeli leaders after attacks on Israeli soil. Obama however is able to act more firmly than just expressing lip service. He has the ability to quash ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but air strikes alone are not sufficient. Without territory, ISIS will be much weaker, as was al-Qaida after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. However, Obama and Western leaders are not ready to send troops to the battlefields of the Middle East, not even in the name of Western civilization’s most sacred values. We can thus expect more terrorism on Western soil, including the US, before this war is over.