FBI: Orlando shooter was on, then off watch list

FBI: Orlando shooter was on, then off watch list
© Getty Images

The man who police say killed 49 people in a brutal rampage in Orlando, Fla., early on Sunday morning was on a federal watch list for roughly 10 months in 2013 and 2014, while he was the subject of an FBI probe.

But then Omar Mateen was taken off the list soon after the investigation ended in March of 2014, FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump orders intel agencies to cooperate with Barr probe into 'spying' on 2016 campaign Attorney General Barr puts former intel bosses on notice MORE said on Monday

ADVERTISEMENT

“He was watch-listed with the opening of the preliminary investigation and he was taken off the watch list when the investigation was closed,” Comey told reporters.

That preliminary investigation was launched after coworkers complained that Mateen, who at the time was the guard at a Florida courthouse, reported that he had boasted about having connections to al Qaeda and other extremist groups. As part of the investigation, the FBI followed Mateen and had confidential sources meet with him, but the results were not enough to press forward, Comey said.

Had Mateen remained on the list, federal officials would have received a flag when he purchased two guns earlier this month, but he would not have been banned from making the purchase.

Democrats in Congress have fought to change the rules for purchases firearms and enact restrictions against people on various government databases from buying the weapons. Those calls have returned in the wake of the shooting in Orlando, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Sally Quillan Yates, the Justice Department’s deputy attorney general, appeared open to the idea but declined to explicitly endorse it.

“Certainly we always want to have more information rather than less, but you also want to factor in what it is you can do with that information,” Yates said. “And currently, there is no prohibition for someone who is under active investigation to be able to purchase a firearm.”

It is unclear whether Mateen was on the Terrorist Screening Database, which is commonly referred to as the terrorist watch list, the narrower no-fly list or a broader classified system shared across the government. Comey declined to clarify the point on Monday.