Around 2 a.m. Sunday morning, a 29-year-old man named Omar Mateen walked into a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and killed 49 people, wounding 53 more. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Mateen was an American-born Muslim and the son of Afghan immigrants.
We know what inspired this crime: Islamist terrorism, fueled by propaganda from ISIS and other murderous groups in the Middle East.
In the following days, we’ve seen the usual cottage industry of controversy spring up around the atrocity: a wealth of commentary from politicians and pundits, and even the president, about whose political enemy is really to blame.
The first thing we should do is leave partisan politics aside. We know what inspired this crime: Islamist terrorism, fueled by propaganda from ISIS and other murderous groups in the Middle East. Mateen even called 911 to publicly pledge allegiance to ISIS. America’s fight is against political Islam.
Also, apart from being tasteless in the wake of a tragedy, political goalkeeping won’t help determine if there were any gaps in our intelligence and law enforcement networks that let such a despicable killer carry out his plans.
Hindsight is 20/20, but so far, we know a few things: A former coworker at a GS4 Security, a company which once employed Mateen, claims that Mateen made bigoted remarks about race and sexuality, spoke of committing violent acts, and harassed him with floods of text messages. He also claims that these warnings were ignored because of political correctness.
We also know that Mateen was actually once on a terrorist watch list, then taken off of it. The FBI interviewed him twice, in 2013 and 2014, because of his stated sympathies with Islamist extremists and contacts with an American who later died in a suicide bombing in Syria. We know that he took trips to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012, although we don’t know what he was doing there.
It is impossible to predict every individual’s actions. But amidst the political back and forth in the coming days, I hope our leaders will keep their eye on the ball, and ask how we can improve our response to Islamist extremism at home and abroad, and the murderous people it has often inspired.
Our capability to tackle potential terrorists before they strike is all the more important because their numbers appear to be growing, not diminishing. As national security expert James Carafano reports:
In the U.S. the number and frequency of Islamist plots has been growing. Before Orlando, the U.S. alone has been the target of at least 85 Islamist-related terrorist plots since Sept. 11, 2001. The attack in Orlando is the 22nd plot since 2015. To put this increase in perspective, more than a quarter of domestic terror plots in the U.S. since 2001 have occurred in the last 18 months.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the numbers show that the incidence of terrorist plots is now increasing 15 years after the worst one we’ve ever faced. Whatever our government is doing, it hasn’t lessened the threat of Islamist extremism, whether at home or abroad.
Just look to the tragic bloodshed in France at the Charlie Hebdo office and at the Bataclan Theater last year. The Heritage Foundation has long warned that the administration’s counterterrorism actions haven’t been sufficient, and has laid out a comprehensive path forward.
Along with millions of our fellow Americans, my prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack and their families. And, along with those many millions, I’m looking forward to a national conversation about improving our national security to find and stop Islamist terrorists before they attack again.
This piece has been updated to remove reference of when Mateen made a 911 call.