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Orlando massacre gunman 'pledged allegiance to IS' in police call

Crime WorldBy Sunday World
Massacre gunman Omar Mateen
Massacre gunman Omar Mateen

A gunman who massacred 49 people at a US nightclub pledged his allegiance to Islamic State as he spoke on the phone to negotiators, police have confirmed.

Officers blasted a hole in the wall of the Pulse club in Orlando, Florida, in a desperate effort to save revellers as Omar Mateen held hostages in a toilet at the gay nightclub.

John Mina, chief of police at the City of Orlando Police Department, said Mateen barricaded himself in a toilet with around four or five hostages after shooting some of his initial victims and called the police, speaking in a "cool and calm" voice with crisis negotiators.

When he spoke about "bomb vests, about explosives" and made threats of an "imminent loss of life", police made the decision to blast through the wall with an armoured vehicle, which Mr Mina said saved "many, many lives".

Mr Mina also confirmed that when Mateen was on the phone to officers "there was allegiance to the Islamic State".

Authorities in Orlando confirmed that 49 people were killed in the shooting in the early hours of Sunday, with 53 others injured. All but one of the victims have been identified and the families of 24 have been informed.

Mateen, the 50th person to die, was killed by Swat officers when he opened fire at police after himself crawling out of the hole made to rescue the nightclubbers.

President Barack Obama called the massacre - the worst mass shooting in recent US history - an "act of terror", while Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said: "We will not be defined by the act of a cowardly hater."

More than 300 people were inside the nightclub when the sound of gunfire was first heard just after 2am local time (7am British time).

The killer fired repeatedly before taking dozens of revellers hostage, leading to a stand-off lasting around three hours.

As Mateen, a 29-year-old bodybuilder of Afghan origin, held a small group in one toilet, around 15 to 20 people took cover in a second toilet opposite.

Speaking to reporters in Orlando, Mr Mina said: "Based on information made by the suspect and from the hostages and people inside, we believed further loss of life was imminent. I made the decision to commence the rescue operation and do the explosive breach."

The explosion failed to fully penetrate the wall so police used an armoured vehicle to punch a hole through it, allowing them to rescue dozens of people.

Mateen fired on officers with a handgun and a "long gun", thought to be an AR-15 rifle, after he emerged from the club, before being killed.

A third weapon was also found in his vehicle, authorities said.

All the victims' bodies have now been removed from the club and FBI investigators are painstakingly working at the scene to reconstruct the night's events.

Paul Wysopal, the FBI's special agent in charge, said they had processed 100 leads so far.

US Attorney Lee Bentley said authorities had collected a "great amount" of both electronic and physical evidence as part of the criminal investigation.

He said: "We do not know yet whether anyone else will be charged in connection with this crime, but we have no reason to believe that anyone connected to this crime is placing the public in imminent danger at this time.

"But there is an investigation of other persons... if anyone else was involved in this crime they will be prosecuted."

While Mateen pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) during the attack, IS has yet to officially claim responsibility.

Al-Bayan Radio, a media outlet for the extremist group, has called the killer "one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America".