Orlando shooter bought rifle, handgun legally – was removed from FBI watchlist

Gun enthusiasts look over Sig Sauers guns at the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual meetings & exhibits show in Louisville, Kentucky, May 21, 2016 © John Sommers II
Weapons used in the Sunday attack on an Orlando, Florida gay nightclub that left 49 dead and 53 wounded were bought just a week ago, and would have raised no red flags, since the suspect was removed from an FBI watch list in 2014.

READ MORE: Mass shooting at Orlando gay nightclub (Live Updates)

Omar Seddique Mateen, identified as the perpetrator of the deadliest mass shooting in US history, stopped by a gun store in Port St. Lucie, Florida on three separate occasions last week, a senior law enforcement source told the Daily Beast.

On June 4, Mateen bought a SIG Sauer .221 caliber semi-automatic rifle at the St. Lucie Shooting Center. The following day, he returned to buy a Glock 17 handgun. On June 9, he came back to buy ammunition for both weapons, the Beast reported.

As a federally licensed gun dealer, the store would have had to notify the FBI of Mateen’s purchase, so his name could be checked against a federal watch list using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS check would have run Mateen’s name through the Terrorist Screening Database – and come up empty, since he was removed from that watch list in 2014.

Though Mateen’s name was also in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), information on that list is classified and not made available to federal gun dealers.

Mateen was able to purchase the weapons and ammunition legally and used them to shoot over 100 people ‒ 49 fatally ‒ at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, in the early morning hours on Sunday.

“We follow the rules, we don’t make the rules,” Ed Henson, owner of St. Lucie Shooting Center, told reporters at a press conference Monday afternoon. "He’s evil. We just happen to be the gun store he picked.”

Born in the US to Afghan parents, Mateen was probed by the FBI twice in recent years: In 2013, after his coworkers reported inflammatory statements, and in 2014, after he made a reference to a fellow Floridian who became the first US suicide bomber in Syria.

The first probe was dropped after Mateen said he had made the comments in anger over discrimination for being a Muslim, and the second was dropped after “no ties of any consequences” to the suicide bomber were found, FBI Director James Comey told reporters Monday.

“I don't see anything in our work that our agents should have done differently,” Comey said, adding that the FBI has the thankless job of looking for needles in a haystack, while figuring out “what pieces of hay might become needles.”

Comey added that the FBI was confused about the attacker’s motives, since Mateen’s 911 call talked about allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), as well as the Tsarnaev brothers – perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing – and Moner Abu-Salha, a Florida man who became a suicide bomber on behalf of Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Initial reports mistakenly described the rifle used by the attacker as the AR-15, a civilian version of Colt’s M-16 military assault rifle, with the full-automatic and burst fire options removed. According to the Daily Beast, however, Mateen used the .221 SIG Sauer rifle, and a 9mm Glock 17 handgun.

Both are semi-automatic weapons, meaning they fire only once per trigger pull, but have a mechanism that ejects the cartridge and loads another one. One of the earliest examples of a semi-automatic rifle is the M1 Garand, issued to the US Army in 1937.

Two-thirds of all US law enforcement agencies use Glock pistols, while SIG Sauer Inc. has armed the Secret Service, Navy SEALs, the Drug Enforcement Agency, federal Air Marshals, the New York Police Department, the Texas Rangers, and many others.