Omar Mateen: Orlando gay nightclub gunman made two pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia

Mateen visited Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012, making an excursion into the United Arab Emirates during one trip, officials confirm

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 16 June 2016 16:48
Mateen was reportedly a regular at the gay club where he carried out the attack
Mateen was reportedly a regular at the gay club where he carried out the attack

Orlando gunman Omar Mateen visited Saudi Arabia twice in recent years - travelling to Mecca for two non-compulsory Umrah pilgrimages, it has been revealed.

Mateen, responsible for the largest mass shooting in American history, made the trips in March 2011 and March 2012 and stayed ten days each time, a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Interior confirmed to NBC News.

The spokesman said records showed Mateen had also visited the United Arab Emirates during one of his trips, but added that officials, who closely monitor tourists deemed to be a terror threat, had made no contact with known extremists during his visits. Mateen’s stated reason for both the trips was for the Umrah pilgrimage.

The Umrah is considered to be a minor pilgrimage in comparison to the Hajj, which is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

Mateen made his inaugural trip after separating from his first wife, Sitora Yusify, who said Mateen had never expressed much interest in religion.

A year after his second trip, the FBI began investigating Mateen, after discovering he had told co-workers he knew Temerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombings.

However, the FBI decided he did not pose a security threat after finding he’d been lying about being acquainted with the pair.

During a phone call to emergency services while carrying out the attack in Orlando which left 49 people dead, the gunman pledged allegiance to Isis, and referred to the Tsarnaev brothers as his “homeboys”.

The FBI, which searched Mateen’s apartment in Fort Pierce, Florida over the weekend, taking a computer and several other items, are yet to comment on what they have learned about Mateen’s travels, but said the 29-year-old appeared to “have leanings towards” radical Islamist ideology.

Mateen’s increasing interest in Islam comes in contrast to reports he had been actively using gay dating apps, and was a regular visitor to the club where he carried out the massacre.

One witness told the Orlando Sentinel that Mateen had visited the gay club at least 12 times.

“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Ty Smith said.

Another regular at the night club, Kevin West, told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen had messaged him over a year long period using a gay chat app.

Mateen’s ex-wife reportedly told her fiancé the shooter had “gay tendencies”.