Attack on Orlando nightclub 'unbelievable', says imam of mosque where gunman worshipped

The Imam of a Florida mosque attended by the shooter who killed 50 people at a gay nightclub says 'only God knows what was in his mind.'
Imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman of the Islamic Centre of Fort Pierce speaks with the media following a prayer for victims of the Orlando shooting.
Imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman of the Islamic Centre of Fort Pierce speaks with the media following a prayer for victims of the Orlando shooting.PHOTO: REUTERS

FORT PIERCE (AFP/REUTERS) - The imam of the mosque where the Orlando nightclub shooter worshipped said on Sunday (June 12) that the suspect never gave any indication he was capable of such violence.

The imam said it was "unbelievable" that a heavily armed Omar Mateen had carried out a rampage at a gay club in Orlando, killing 50 people and wounding 53.

Mateen, 29, attended evening prayers three or four times a week at the Islamic Centre of Fort Pierce, bringing his son who is about four or five years old, said the mosque's imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman.

"He would pray and his son would play," said Imam Rahman, who has known Mateen since 2003, when he became the imam.

Mateen did not socialise, leaving when services ended. He did not talk but would smile and shake hands, Imam Rahman said.

"He hardly had any friends... He would come with his little son at night to pray and after he would leave."

"I never expected this," Imam Rahman said, holding a Quran in his hand as he spoke with reporters. "We teach peace and justice."

"It must be some kind of psychological problem or anger problem," the imam said, adding that Mateen might have been radicalised on the Internet.


Imam Rahman said Mateen never approached him regarding any concerns about homosexuals. Imam Rahman said he himself had been increasingly speaking out against violence, noting that even inflicting a scratch on someone was against the tenets of Islam.

Mateen's parents regularly attend services at the mosque and his father works in life insurance, the imam said.

Imam Rahman said he was concerned about the safety of the mosque, located on a quiet residential street in the small coastal city of Fort Pierce.

"The people who are bad people look like us, and that's a problem," he said.

The tragedy had left the local Muslim community fearful, he added. Imam Rahman said he planned to add extra security to the mosque and brighter lighting to help reassure followers they were safe amid fears of a public backlash against Muslims.

"We thought we could relax for a couple of years and tell people we are normal human beings," Imam Rahman said.

The Orlando massacre was the deadliest terror attack in the United States since Sept 11, 2001.

The authorities said Mateen apparently called 911 before the massacre and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).