Journalists and all you careful consumers of foreign-news coverage, I have a question for you. At this stage, after the horrors of the massacre inside The Pulse gay bar in Orlando, what elements of the case do you think are drawing the most attention from investigators at the local, national and global levels?
Everyone (well almost everyone) is really interested, of course, in learning more about the motive for the crime.
That could be a local question or it could be a national question. That could be a global question. I can imagine a scenario in which it is all three and, for national-security experts, that is the nightmare scenario. What if the lone wolf wasn't really a lone wolf?
If that is the case, then it is fair to ask when Omar Mateen met radical jihadists with ties to ISIS or, at the very least, ties to radicalized forms of Islam that might lead a young man to sympathy for the Islamic State. Yes, the internet is a likely channel But the World Wide Web alone?
This brings me to the question that I have been asking for a week or so now. I would imagine that investigators are rather interested in what did or did not happen during Mateen's two relatively recent trips to Saudi Arabia, as in 2011 and 2012.
What? You have not read much about those rather expensive and flexible trips? Well, that's because, when it comes to follow-up work among journalists, these trips appear to be (wait for it) "conservative news."
Here is a typical New York Times reference, from early reporting:
James Comey, the F.B.I. director, said during a news conference ... that agents used various methods to investigate Mr. Mateen, including sending an undercover informant who made contact with the suspect, wiretapping his conversations and scrutinizing his personal and financial records.
They also sought help from Saudi intelligence officials to learn more about his trips to the kingdom in 2011 and 2012 for the Umrah, a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca made by Muslims. More than 11,000 Americans make pilgrimages to Mecca each year, and Mr. Comey said the F.B.I. found no “derogatory” information about his trips.
And how about the Los Angeles Times? Once again, this is early reporting:
The investigation has extended to Afghanistan, where Mateen’s parents were from, and to Saudi Arabia. Mateen traveled to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for 10 days in March 2011 and for eight days in March 2012 to take part in the annual religious pilgrimage made by Muslims, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
In 2013, when the FBI launched a 10-month investigation of Mateen for possible terrorist ties, U.S. authorities asked Saudi intelligence officials about the two trips, officials said. The Saudis had no evidence suggesting Mateen had held suspicious meetings while in the kingdom, or engaged in any other behavior that raised any alarms.
I am sure that investigators have complete trust in what officials in Saudi Arabia are saying on a case such as this. Well, maybe not.
Now contrast the tone of that reporting with this feature at, you guessed it, Fox News.
Orlando gunman Omar Mateen’s two trips to Saudi Arabia, one of which was a pricey package that included four-star accommodations and fancy meals, were highly unusual and may have been cover for terror training, according to experts.
The FBI is piecing together Mateen’s radical Islam roots, and the trips to Saudi Arabia could be a sign of his growing religious devotion. His stated reason for both the 2011 and 2012 trips was umrah, a Muslim pilgrimage to the Kingdom that is not as significant as the hajj, a trip all Muslims must make to Mecca at least once in their lives. Either or both of the trips could also have included a side trip.
“It's very possible for someone to take a trip to a country like Saudi Arabia and declare it as their destination when it is in actuality just a pit stop to a different country like Yemen,” said Ryan Mauro, national security analyst for Clarion Project, a New York-based research institute that tracks global terrorism. “Based on his blatant extremism and ties to a convicted Orlando imam known for facilitating international jihadists traveling, the strong likelihood is that these trips were not benign.”
Yes, there are more details:
When Mateen aligned himself with terrorists is not yet clear, but his trips to Saudi Arabia would have put him within a day’s drive of Yemen, where Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has long had a large presence, and where ISIS also has gained a foothold in recent years. Several radicalized Americans have traveled to Yemen to train in terror camps.
Mateen’s first trip to Saudi Arabia was for 10 days, and the jaunt a year later was for eight. The 2011 trip was arranged by U.S.-based Islamic travel agency Dar El Salam and was a package the company calls the “Sacred Caravan Umrah.”
The package costs up to $4,000 and is generally comprised of four nights at four-star accommodations in Mecca and six nights in Medina, complete with buffet meals, sightseeing and religious studies and lectures. ...
The second trip included a stop in the United Arab Emirates, but the exact itinerary of either trip is not known. The FBI, which searched Mateen’s condominium in Fort Pierce, Fla., overnight Sunday and into Monday morning, taking a computer and several other items, declined to comment on what investigators may have learned about Mateen’s travels.
What would be the purpose of two trips of this kind, that close together, linked to the same Islamic season, as opposed to one trip for umrah and maybe a second pilgrimage for the crucial hajj experience?
Frankly, I think this is rather strange. Maybe I am just being naive?
I've been watching this pretty carefully. Have I missed significant coverage? Just asking.