WASHINGTON (Reuters/AFP) - US President Barack Obama on Sunday (June 12) described the worst mass shooting in US history as “an act of terror” and “an act of hate,” saying the massacre of 50 people at a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida was an attack on all Americans.
“Today as Americans we grieve the brutal murder, a horrific massacre of dozens of innocent people,” he said in a statement at the White House.
“Although it is still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” Obama said.
“We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”
He ordered the flag at the White House to be flown at half staff to honour the victims.
The shooter, who was identified as Florida resident Omar S. Mateen was killed by police at the nightclub.
A top US congressman said Mateen may have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but US officials cautioned they had no direct evidence of a connection.
Fifty-three people were wounded in the rampage, which surpassed the 32 people killed in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech university.
Obama said it was appropriate for the FBI to investigate the massacre as an act of terrorism and said he would “spare no effort” to determine whether the assailant had been inspired or associated with an extremist group.
The president also termed the shooting a new reminder of“how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or in a house of worship or a movie theatre or in a nightclub,” a reference to other mass killings that have punctuated recent US history.
“We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Obama had ordered the federal government to provide any assistance necessary to local law enforcement officials investigating the shooting.
He was briefed on the shooting by Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, the White House said in a statement.
"The President asked to receive regular updates as the FBI and other federal officials work with the Orlando Police to gather more information," the White House said.
Other world leaders have also reacted to the shooting.
US Vice-President Joe Biden was briefed on the Orlando nightclub shootings by his national security adviser and is closely monitoring the situation, the White House said in a statement.
"Biden offered his prayers for all those killed and injured in the shooting and sends his condolences to all the families and loved ones of the victims," the statement said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott is travelling to Orlando to meet with law enforcement and local officials. He released the following statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and all those affected by this horrific tragedy. We are a strong and resilient state and we will devote every resource available to assist with the shooting in Orlando.
"Our state emergency operations center is also monitoring this tragic incident. I have been in constant communication with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and state and local law enforcement this morning. I would like to also thank all the first responders who quickly came to assist and help those in need.”
He also had strong words on his Twitter account. He wrote: "This is an attack on our people. An attack on Orlando. An attack on Florida. An attack on America. An attack on all of us."
He also pledged to "devote every resource available to assist" after the shooting.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, offered a tweet signed "-H" to indicate it was from her personally.
"Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act," Clinton wrote.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, referred to the shooting as "possible terrorism."
In a tweet on Sunday morning, Trump said: "Really bad shooting in Orlando. Police investigating possible terrorism. Many people dead and wounded."
In his latest tweet, Trump said he was right about “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” the billionaire businessman said.
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said “all Americans are horrified, disgusted and saddened by the horrific” Orlando, Florida massacre.
US Senator Marco Rubio wrote in a statement that he was "devastated by this heartbreaking act of terrorism in Orlando".
“Confronting the threat of violent homegrown radicalization is one of the greatest counterterrorism challenges our law enforcement and intelligence community faces. We must do more at every level of government and within our own communities to identify and mitigate this cancer on our free society and prevent further loss of innocent life.”
He also urged those who live in central Florida to donate blood to help the injured.
In Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean wrote on his Facebook that he was "saddened by the loss of so many innocent lives and the injuries to many more".
"Our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones, and to those who are suffering from the trauma of the shooting."
He added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is checking on the safety of Singaporeans who are in Florida at this time.
Pope Francis has expressed horror and condemnation over the mass shooting, according to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
In a statement, Lombardi said the Pope was shaken and saddened by the “homicidal folly and senseless hatred” of the attack. “We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence,” the statement said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to US President Barack Obama.
“On behalf of the people and government of Israel I extend our deepest condolences to the American people following last night’s horrific attack on the LGBT community in Orlando,” he said in a statement issued in English.
“Israel stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States at this moment of tragic loss,” Netanyahu added.
President Reuven Rivlin also sent condolences “and prayers for a speedy recovery of the injured”.
“This attack against the LGBT community in Orlando, is as cowardly as it is abhorrent,” he wrote in an English-language statement. “Once again we feel the pain of terrible loss as we see the blood spilled of young and innocent people.”
Two Palestinian gunmen shot dead four people at a popular Tel Aviv nightspot on Wednesday, triggering fresh Israeli restrictions on the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.