Tuesday 14 June 2016

Orlando gay nightclub shooting: 50 dead in America's worst mass shooting

53 others injured in 'terror incident' at Orlando gay club; gunman killed by police
The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2016

ORLANDO (Florida) • In the worst mass shooting in United States history, 50 people died and 53 others were injured when a heavily armed gunman opened fire and seized hostages at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

The police, who killed the shooter, classified yesterday's attack as a "terror incident".

Terrified survivors described how the gunman - identified as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old US citizen - raked the club with bullets.

One clubgoer said he heard at least 40 shots fired. Another said there was "blood everywhere".

A police Swat team was called in to storm the venue.

"We have cleared the building, and it is with great sadness that I share we have not 20, but 50 casualties, in addition to the shooter," Mayor Buddy Dyer told a news briefing in Orlando. "There are another 53 that are hospitalised."

The death toll far exceeded the 32 people killed at Virginia Tech in 2007, and the 26 gunned down at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

The shooting was also the second such incident in Orlando in just over 24 hours, coming after singer Christina Grimmie was shot dead by a gunman late on Friday.

Federal Bureau of Investigation official Ronald Hopper told reporters that officials were "confident" there was no immediate further threat to the area, or to the US.

But because of the scale of the crime, Mr Dyer declared a city-wide state of emergency and also asked the Florida governor to take the same measure state-wide.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the shooting and was expected to deliver a statement.

Mr Hopper said the US authorities were looking into whether Omar had "leanings" towards Islamic extremism. A Twitter account linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group posted a photo purported to be of Omar.

The chaotic events unfolded over a three-hour period, starting at about 2am on Sunday US time, when shots rang out at the Pulse nightclub near closing time. An off-duty police officer working security at the club exchanged fire with the gunman, said Orlando police chief John Mina.

"The suspect at some point went back inside the club where more shots were fired. This did turn into a hostage situation," he told reporters. That was when the decision was taken to rescue the hostages.

The police stormed the venue, using explosives and breaking through a wall with a wheeled armoured vehicle. Mr Mina said about 30 people were rescued in the operation. The injured were rushed to hospitals.

At Orlando Regional Medical Centre, where some of the gunshot victims were being treated, the scene was sombre as many had not been able to locate their loved ones.

Mr C. J. Walker, 30, drove 130km to Orlando from Tampa seeking information about his sister, one of the nightclub's DJs. She normally worked on Saturday nights, and he had not been able to reach her by phone or on social media. He finally learnt that she had not worked on Saturday night and was safe.

"Unfortunately, it's not going to be like this for so many other people," he said.


Orlando shooting: US anti-terror, gun control policies under scrutiny
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2016

The United States' anti-terror strategy, especially in tackling "lone-wolf" attacks, and gun control policies have come under fresh scrutiny after it emerged that the gunman responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in US history had previously been cleared of militant links.

Omar Mateen, 29, whose shooting spree at a gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday left 49 dead, had been interviewed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation on two occasions, the most recent in 2014. But the FBI found no evidence to hold him - showing how difficult it is to detect these lone attackers.

Even though the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the mass shooting and Omar had pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 call as he began his attack, US officials stressed it was still too early to tell if he actually had any contact with the militant group.

As the US authorities continued their investigation into Omar and his motive, condolences flowed in from across the world.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong offered his condolences on behalf of the Government and people of Singapore, and said he was "deeply shocked and saddened" by the tragedy. Singapore, which has grown increasingly wary of lone-wolf attacks, has raised the terror alert to its highest level and stepped up security measures at key facilities.

Alert levels were also raised on the West Coast of the US in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting after a 20-year-old was arrested in California with a cache of weapons and bomb-making materials.

A debate was also reignited about why Omar, a man the FBI suspected to have ISIS links, was able to buy a handgun, an assault rifle and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

US President Barack Obama reiterated his call for common sense gun control measures.

"We have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well," he said in a televised address.








Candlelight gathering at Hong Lim Park
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2016

More than 700 people held a candlelight vigil at Hong Lim Park last night in the wake of the Orlando gay club shooting that left 49 people dead and 53 injured.

Shaken members of Singapore's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community told The Straits Times they do not rule out the possibility of violence occurring here and called for a dialogue with the wider community to pave the way for greater understanding.

Vigil organiser Nicholas Lim, 36, founder of LGBT online community GLBT Voices Singapore, said in a speech: "The LGBT community and our allies are used to discrimination and we are still here. We are resilient. It is a strong statement to the people who often misunderstand us and label us with ugly names.

"We want to tell them that hate will not win. Tonight we show that in times of tragedy, people come together in the name of love."

Photographer Audi Khalid, 28, told ST: "There needs to be a very open civil discussion about how LGBT issues relate to religion, Singapore society and everyone."

Ministers also weighed in on the issue. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong wrote on Facebook: "We cannot condone hate crime of any form against whatever community. We may have disagreements in faiths, views and perspectives but these should be resolved or accommodated by engagement, dialogue and debate... not through senseless violence."

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said differences in religions, beliefs and sexuality "will never be settled by force or rigid rules".

LGBT Singaporeans said the nation's security and safety cannot be taken for granted. Doctoral candidate Ching S. Sia, 33, who attended the vigil, did not rule out violence here, given a June 4 Facebook comment that many have come to view as a threat against LGBT people.

Facebook user Bryan Lim posted a comment on a page against the annual LGBT rally Pink Dot, asking for permission to "open fire". The user, who has since deleted his account, wrote: "I would like to see these £@€$^*s die for their causes."

Ms Sia said: "All it takes is for one person to snap and it will be a wake-up call that something like that can happen in Singapore."

Gay clubs here have said they will increase vigilance. Tantric Bar, a prominent gay nightspot in Neil Road, said bars in the area will notify one another if they see anyone suspicious. Said Tantric manager Roy Chao: "These few days, we have been quite strict. We look around more intensely... to make sure there is nothing funny going on."

More than 15 local LGBT groups released a joint statement backing the Government's stance to protect Singaporeans regardless of race, religion or sexuality.

It said: "It is our hope that through meaningful dialogue and engagement, our leaders will get the opportunity to better understand the LGBT community. At the end of the day, we want the same thing - a safe, peaceful and united Singapore for all Singaporeans."


Government will protect all Singaporeans, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation: Shanmugam
Zero tolerance for hate speech, says Shanmugam
Lessons US can learn from Singapore

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