Islamic State radio: Orlando shooter a 'soldier of the caliphate'

Omar Mateen, 29
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Islamic State radio on Monday called the U.S.-born gunman who opened fire in a packed nightclub, killing at least 50 people, "one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America."

The attack, which happened early Sunday at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Federal authorities identified the shooter as Omar Mateen, 29, a New York-born resident of , who worked for the security firm G4S. He was killed by police. Orlando Mayor  said 53 people were wounded.

Mateen acknowledged his support for the  during a 911 call to local law enforcement from the nightclub, Orlando FBI chief Ron Hopper said. Investigators have yet to determine whether the extremist group had any direct role in the attack.

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Hopper said agents had investigated Mateen in 2013 and again in 2014 regarding terror threats, but lacked sufficient evidence in both cases to pursue charges. Mateen was of Afghan descent, according to media reports.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina said the tragedy began unfolding at 2:02 a.m., when three police officers engaged the suspect in a gun battle outside the club. A hostage situation then took place inside, and a SWAT team was called in, Mina said. Police received updates from patrons trapped in the club, and decided to storm the club at about 5 a.m. ET.

 said the crime shows once again how easy it is for someone to get a weapon for use in a mass killing. He also expressed condolences to the families of the victims.

"The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub, it was a place of solidarity, empowerment, where people come together to raise awareness," he said.

The suspect's father, Mir Seddique Mateen, told NBC  that he was shocked by the news, but that his son had recently expressed anti-gay sentiments. He said the attack "had nothing to do with religion."

G4S issued a statement expressing shock and sadness at the "unspeakable tragedy." The firm said Mateen had been employed since September 10, 2007, and that G4S was cooperating fully with the investigation.

Tributes poured in from around the world. , the host of the , opened the show Sunday with a tribute to the victims.

The organizers of the Pride in London event said a minute’s reflection will take place at the event on June 25. Revelers had been celebrating Gay Pride month across Orlando for nearly two weeks.

, who was elected London’s first Muslim mayor last month, said in a Facebook statement: “Londoners across our city stand shoulder to shoulder alongside our brothers and sisters in Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all the victims of this horrific attack. ‪#‎lovewins

GoFundMe page has been set up to support the victims.

Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara