The Orlando nightclub gunman made two trips to Saudi Arabia between 2011 and 2012 for the Muslim religious pilgrimage known as Umrah, NBC reported Monday.
A US official told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that the gunman also traveled to the United Arab Emirates around that time.
“Orlando shooter traveled to Saudi Arabia and UAE in 2011-12, US official tells me,” Sciutto tweeted. ” Saudi Arabia interior ministry adds that he went for the Umrah, the lesser religious pilgrimage that can take place any time of year.”
The shooter, identified as Omar Mateen, killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in central Orlando early Sunday morning. Mateen called 911 sometime during his rampage and pledged allegiance to ISIS, mentioning the Boston Marathon bombers during the call.
The ISIS-affiliated news agency Amaq News broadcast a claim of responsibility from the terror group for the rampage late Sunday afternoon.
Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique Mateen, told NBC News that his son’s actions had “nothing to do with religion.” He said his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami months ago, and he said he believed homophobia may have inspired his son to attack the nightclub.
The imam at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, where Mateen often went to pray, told reporters in Fort Pierce that Mateen ” was the most quiet guy – he never talked to anyone.” He said later that Mateen had come to the mosque with his 3-year-old son and his father the night before the shooting, and “was the last to come in and the first to leave.”
One of Mateen’s friends, however, told The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity that Mateen had indeed traveled to Saudi Arabia for a religious pilgrimage after a divorce from his wife.
“He was quite religious,” the friend said, but added that Mateen never expressed support or sympathy for radical terror groups like ISIS.
Mateen’s ex-wife, for her part, told The Washington Post that he was abusive and “was not a stable person.”