The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Orlando gay club massacre and says the gunman that slaughtered at least 50 people was one of its fighters. Shooter Omar Mateen, 29, from Port St. Lucie in Florida, opened fire at Pulse night club in the early hours of this morning.
At least 50 people were killed and 53 others were injured in the shooting in the deadliest mass shooting in US history and the first time ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack US soil.
A surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.
Shortly before the attack, Mateen, who was born in New York to Afghan parents, called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, law enforcement officials told NBC News.
Islamic State's Amaq news agency said on Sunday that the Islamist militant group was responsible for the shooting.
'The armed attack that targeted a gay night club in the city of Orlando in the American state of Florida which left over 100 people dead or injured was carried out by an Islamic State fighter,' Amaq said.
U.S. officials cautioned, however, that they had no immediate evidence of any direct connection with Islamic State or any other foreign extremist group, nor had they uncovered any contacts between the gunman and any such group.
During the attack, Mateen also referenced the brothers who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a Massachusetts State Police spokesman said on Sunday.
'During a conference call with federal law enforcement officials a short time ago, Massachusetts State Police and other local law enforcement authorities learned that the Orlando nightclub gunman, during his rampage, pledged allegiance to ISIS and referenced the Tsarnaev brothers,' state police spokesman David Procopio said in an e-mail.
However Mateen's father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami several months ago.
'This has nothing to do with religion,' he said. 'We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident. We weren't aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country.'
US citizen Mateen, who was shot dead by officers, entered the nightclub wielding an AR-15 assault rifle and a handgun.
Writing on Facebook, Pulse urged party-goers to 'get out and keep running' as bullets started flying at around 2am local time.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said the suspect exchanged gunfire with an officer working at the club around 2am, then went back inside and took hostages.
There were about 320 people inside the club at the time of the shootings and about 100 people were taken hostage.
At around 5am authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the hostages. Nine hero officers used a 'controlled explosion' to distract the shooter before fatally shooting him and were able to rescue about 30 hostages who were hiding in the bathroom of the club.
During the gunfire, an officer was shot, but he was saved by his helmet.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said in a press conference: 'Many were saved by the heroic efforts of the men and women of the OPD, the Orange County Sheriffs, Seminal County Sheriff's office.'
NBC News/Daily Mail
NBC News/Daily Mail