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Obama to console grieving families in Orlando

AFP , Thursday 16 Jun 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama departs the White House in Washington on his way to Orlando, Florida to meet with families of victims of the shooting June 16, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

President Barack Obama embarked on a solemn visit to Orlando Friday, where he will console families of a massacre that has fueled America's culture wars and a fresh push for gun controls.

Obama departed the White House dressed in a dark suit and bound for Florida where he will meet families whose lives have been ripped apart by a tragedy of national proportions.

The massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub last Sunday was the deadliest mass shooting in the history of a country that is depressingly familiar with such events.

Another 53 people were wounded.

"This will be, I think, an emotional trip," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Obama and his Vice President Joe Biden, will also meet emergency medical crews and hospital staff who labored to save lives in the chaotic hours after the massacre by gunman Omar Mateen.

Mateen was killed in a police raid, but his motivation and how he came to possess an special forces assault rifle remain deeply contentious.

Mateen, a Muslim American of Afghan origin, pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group in a 911 call during the attack.

IS then claimed responsibility for the shooting and FBI agents believe that Mateen was radicalized by following extremist propaganda online.

That has prompted Republicans to call for tougher counterterrorism measures and for the Obama administration to do more to fight the Islamic State group.

The White House says coalition forces and allies are making gains against the group's strongholds in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

But Republican arguments were given credence by Obama's own CIA director John Brennan Thursday, who warned the group retains the ability to conduct attacks around the world.

"Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach," he told senior US lawmakers.

Understanding of the shooting has been muddied by witnesses who say Mateen was a regular at the gay club and used gay dating apps.

But Democrats and some Republicans have joined in questioning how a man, who Obama described as a "angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized" who had been investigated by the FBI was able to buy "weapons of war."

Frustrated Democrats took to the Senate floor Wednesday to launch a procedural obstruction, known as a filibuster, to pressure Republicans to accept so-called "no-fly no buy" legislation that would bar those on watch lists or no-fly lists from purchasing firearms.

US media outlets, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, reported that Mateen's 30-year-old widow Noor may have had prior knowledge of her husband's plan and could face criminal charges.

According to CNN, a US attorney plans to bring evidence before a federal grand jury to determine whether charges will be brought against her.

Mateen's ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, has said he used to beat her.

Members of the small Muslim community in Mateen's hometown of Fort Pierce say they have endured profanity-laced taunts and even death threats in recent days.

US authorities have warned that threats against Muslims would not be tolerated, and could be prosecuted.

"Civil rights violations are a priority for the FBI," assistant special agent Ron Hopper told reporters.

"We will investigate reported incidents against individuals based upon any class, any protected class, to include race, religion, and sexual orientation."

In most cases, making these threats "is illegal," said US attorney Lee Bentley. "Any threats like this detract from what we're doing in law enforcement."

As Orlando prepared to receive Obama, the process of saying goodbye to the dead began with a wake held Wednesday for a 40-year-old man named Javier Jorge Reyes. More wakes and funerals are expected in coming days.

A new family assistance center opened in Orlando Wednesday in a part of the stadium once known as the Citrus Bowl.

"This is for the community," Sarita Figueroa, the director of readjustment counseling services for the Department of Veterans Affairs, told AFP.

She said counselors had come from across the country.

For relatives of the dead, the aftermath is "very difficult. It's too fresh," she said.

"Some are still getting belongings from that night that were on the floor. Glasses, watches, a wallet... You receive the news that you lost someone, and then you receive the note that you need to go and pick up things. That's another process."

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