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Orlando Nightclub Killer Omar Mateen was looking for support from Varied Islamist Extremist groups

No direct links have been found between him and Islamic state.

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Candlelight vigil for the Orlando nightclub shooting held at Morningside Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wikimedia commons
  • Omar Mateen expressed sympathy for various Islamist extremists
  • President Barack Obama said that Omar was most likely a homegrown extremist
  • The Florida shooting spree began early on Sunday when the club was packed with over 350 people

The man behind the Orlando nightclub killing, Omar Mateen expressed sympathy for various Islamist extremists. The FBI said on Monday that these extremists included the sworn enemies in the Middle East. No direct links have been found between Mateen and Islamic state, the US authorities reported.

President Barack Obama said that Omar was most likely a homegrown extremist.

Mateen, 29, was born to Afghan immigrants. He was shot dead by police who stormed the Pulse club with armored cars after a three-hour siege. In 911 calls during his rampage, the killer expressed allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said Mateen had made comments favorable to multiple armed Islamist movements and people, which “adds a little bit to the confusion about his motives.”

“So far, we see no indication that this was a plot directed from outside the United States and we see no indication that he was part of any kind of network,” Comey told reporters in Washington. “We’re highly confident this killer was radicalized at least in some part through the internet.”

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Islamic State, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria, reiterated on Monday a claim of responsibility, although it offered no signs to indicate coordination with the gunman.

In calls to authorities on Sunday, Mateen also mentioned support for the Boston Marathon bombers and a Florida man who became a Nusra Front suicide bomber in Syria, Comey said. Nusra is an al Qaeda offshoot which is at odds with Islamic State in Syria’s civil war.

Co-workers reported Mateen to the FBI in 2013 after he had made “inflammatory and contradictory” statements, including a claim that he had family connections to al Qaeda and membership of Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, a bitter rival.

The FBI’s Miami office investigated Mateen for 10 months and interviewed him twice but found no evidence of a crime or connection with a militant group. Comey said the FBI was also “working to understand what role anti-gay bigotry may have played” in the attack.

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The massacre reverberated on the presidential campaign trail, where Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the two likely opponents in the Nov. 8 election, clashed over how to confront violent Islamist extremists.

Trump proposed suspending immigration to the United States from countries with a history of terrorism against America, Europe or U.S. allies, while Clinton warned against demonizing Muslims and called for tougher gun safety measures.

Obama is to visit Orlando on Thursday to pay respects to families of the victims.

‘NEEDLES IN NATIONWIDE HAYSTACK’

The Orlando killings followed the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, last year and raised the question of whether the United States will have to confront jihadist attacks in the homeland for years to come.

A couple at a vigil to unite in the wake of the Orlando Pulse shooting
A couple at a vigil to unite in the wake of the Orlando Pulse shooting

Comey said tracking apparent lone wolf attackers like Mateen was like finding “needles in a nationwide haystack” while also trying to work out what kind of people could become radicalized.

The Florida shooting spree began early on Sunday when the club was packed with over 350 people at a Latin music night. Mateen fired on the crowd with bullets from an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and a pistol. Many fled the scene.

Mateen was trapped in a bathroom by an initial wave of officers. This allowed many people to flee. However many were still trapped in the washroom with him, leading to a standoff, Orlando Police Chief John Mina told reporters.

Police broke a hole in the wall for the people trapped to flee, after negotiating with Mateen for over three hours. Soon, the killer also emerged from this hole. He was shot dead by the officers, police said.

Some 53 people were wounded and 29 remain hospitalized at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Michael Cheatham, chief trauma surgeon at the hospital, told Fox News he expects all of the survivors in the hospital to survive.

The Orlando nightclub killing is considered one of America’s deadliest mass shooting.

-prepared by Devika Todi (with inputs from Reuters). Twitter: devika_todi

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Trump’s Immigration Plan Emphasizes Skills over Family Connections

The plan will bolster border security and create a merit-based system

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trump, immigration, skills, family
FILE - President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 9, 2019. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce his long-awaited proposal on immigration Thursday, a plan that aims to move the immigration approval process away from family-ties and humanitarian needs.

In a briefing to reporters ahead of Trump’s scheduled afternoon remarks at the White House Rose Garden, a senior administration official said the plan will bolster border security and create a merit-based system, insisting that it is a “competitiveness issue.”

Trump’s proposal would keep the number of green cards or permanent residency issued around 1.1 million annually, but will change the focus of how they would be allocated, prioritizing highly skilled and educated individuals with employment or investment prospects rather than family ties to U.S. citizens or humanitarian needs.

Currently, 12% of immigrants are given permission to come to the U.S. based on their skills, and 66% because of their connection to family already in the country legally. Under the plan, 57% of immigrant visas will be given to individuals with skills or offers of employment, and only 33% to people with family ties. Visas given based on humanitarian needs will be reduced from 22% to 10%.

trump, plan, skills, family
FILE – A girl waves the Venezuelan flag during a visit to bid goodbye in her grandparents’ house, before her move to the U.S. after winning the green card lottery, in Valencia, April 6, 2014. VOA

The economic justification for eliminating or drastically reducing family-sponsored immigration is questioned by immigration analysts.

David Bier of the libertarian CATO Institute said that nearly half of family-sponsored immigrants have college degrees, a much higher rate than U.S.-born adults.

“The vast majority of U.S. legal immigrants are family-sponsored, yet the U.S. immigrant population works at higher rates than the U.S.-born population,” he said.

Bier said that adding more skilled immigration would benefit the United States but “there is no justification for that coming at the expense of family reunification.”

The plan will completely eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa program also known as the green card lottery, currently annually given to 50,000 people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

The Build America Visa

The administration official described the heart of the proposal as the “Build America Visa,” with three main streams: “extraordinary talent; professional and specialized vocations; and, exceptional students.”

English fluency will be included as a factor determining whether an individual will be granted permanent residence.

“Language ability is a strong indicator of long-term economic success, not only for the initiating immigrant but for their children,” said the administration official, stressing that the merit-based system will lead to more diversity instead of reduce it.

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Immigration scholar Rick Su from the University of Buffalo disagrees.

“Depending on how that is measured, this will likely lead to less diversity,” he said. “There are a number of very talented individuals working in the U.S. now, and doing quite well, that would likely have less English language proficiency than those from Anglophone countries.”

David Bier pointed out that a points-based system would be dominated by the largest developing countries in the world, mostly Indians and Chinese.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “I see no economic or moral reason to select immigrants on the basis of their place of birth.”​

Dreamers ‘not contemplated’

The plan, developed by a team led by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, is unlikely to receive support from Democrats, as it does not address the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for the so-called “Dreamers,” immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

trump, plan, family, skills
FILE – Immigrant rights supporters gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 26, 2017. VOA

The White House said Dreamers “are not being contemplated at this time” and acknowledged that the plan is just the first step in the process of an immigration overhaul, including in terms of rallying Republican support behind it.

The Trump administration attempted to end the Obama-era DACA program in 2017 and went through several legal challenges. The Supreme Court in January took no action on the Trump administration’s request to review DACA. This means the fate of the program, and its 70,000 recipients will not likely be determined until the court begins its new term in October.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Republican Senator Susan Collins also expressed reservations, saying “I am concerned about the fate of the DACA young people, and they cannot be excluded from any immigration package.”

Overhauling the nation’s immigration law has been an issue of contention between Republicans and Democrats for years. The battle has intensified since 2016 when Donald Trump ran for office on a pledge to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico to keep out migrants entering the country illegally. (VOA)