The FBI is facing backlash for redacting the names of the Orlando shooter and the group to whom he pledged allegiance in a transcript released of the conversations he had with police the night of the massacre.
The gunman, who has since been identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, spoke to a 911 dispatcher and crisis negotiators as he carried out his attack, which left 49 people dead and more than 50 others wounded.
In those calls, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, FBI director James Comey said in a press conference last week.
On the transcript, however, Mateen is referred to as “OM,” and any mentions of ISIS are omitted:
Assistant FBI agent in charge Ronald Hopper reiterated on Monday that Mateen was radicalized domestically and not directed by any foreign terror group. But critics have accused the FBI of trying to downplay Mateen’s sympathies for the extremist group by omitting its name from the transcript.
“Selectively editing this transcript is preposterous,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement on Monday. “We know the shooter was a radical Islamist extremist inspired by ISIS. We also know he intentionally targeted the LGBT community. The administration should release the full, unredacted transcript so the public is clear-eyed about who did this, and why.”
How foolish is the [omitted] Administration to have edits the transcript. I guess they don’t want to connect terrorism to radical [omitted].
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) June 20, 2016
President Barack Obama has been criticised in the past — as recently as last week, by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — for refusing to use the term “radical Islam.”
Obama shot back at these criticisms in a speech last week, calling them a “political distraction.”
“What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change?” Obama asked. “Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?”
“What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this man’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups, and further his propaganda,” Lynch said. “We are not going to hear him make his assertions of allegiance [to the Islamic State].”
The FBI’s Hopper told reporters on Monday that officials believed including ISIS’ name would risk triggering people within the US “that might be like-minded” to commit similar acts.
“Part of the redacting is to not give credence” to ISIS propaganda, Hopper told reporters Monday when asked why the FBI didn’t just let the transcript speak for itself. “We’re not going to propagate their violent rhetoric. To do that would only inflame people that might be like-minded.”
Mateen’s pledges of allegiance to ISIS and expressions of solidarity with the Boston Marathon bombers in the phone calls have been reported in the past and were confirmed by Comey in last week’s press conference.
Still, the agency decided to summarize much of Mateen’s communications with police rather than provide direct quotes, prompting additional outcry:
What did Mateen say & when during his 911 calls during the shooting? We don’t really know. Transcript heavily redacted & summarized by FBI
— Abigail Hauslohner (@ahauslohner) June 20, 2016
Mateen’s massacre on the gay Orlando nightclub, Pulse, on June 12 was the worst shooting in US history. Forty-nine people were killed and at least 50 more wounded.
Mateen, who was a regular at the nightclub and reportedly used gay dating apps, was a security guard and had a Florida firearms licence that allowed him to carry concealed weapons. He was investigated twice by the FBI in 2013 and 2014 for his suspected ties to terrorists, but the cases were closed when authorities concluded that Mateen did not pose a substantive national-security threat.
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