News & Politics

Gun Store Owner Alerted FBI to 'Very Suspicious' Customer Weeks Before Orlando Shooting

The owner of a Florida gun store said he alerted the FBI after a “very suspicious” customer tried to buy body armor and bulk ammunition from the store about a month and a half ago. That customer was none other than Orlando nightclub terrorist Omar Mateen.

Via ABC News:

Robert Abell, a co-owner of Lotus Gunworks in Jensen Beach, Florida, told ABC News today that a man entered the store five or six weeks ago and asked specific questions about high-end body armor. When employees said the store didn’t carry the body armor he wanted, Abell said, the man made a phone call in a foreign language, hung up and then asked about ammunition in bulk.

Abell said a member of his staff thought the questions were “odd” and made him uncomfortable, so he turned the man away.

Abell added that they thought the man was “very suspicious,” so they called the local FBI office in West Palm Beach and reported the incident. But they didn’t have the man’s name, since no sale was made, and the only surveillance footage they had was grainy.

“We gave them information and everything that took place, and that was the end of the conversation,” he said.

There was a follow-up conversation with agents, Abell said, but the FBI never visited the store or investigated further.

That was the end of it until he saw the news about the Orlando shooting that took place early Sunday morning and images of the man identified as the killer: Mateen, the man who Abell said was in the store.

Officials at the FBI’s Miami field office and at headquarters in Washington, D.C., declined to comment, ABC News reported.

Abell told ABC News that he and his team are in regular contact with the FBI, and report any suspicious activity that occurs in the store. That is what they did in this case, too.

Since the FBI had investigated Mateen twice before (in 2013 and 2014) for possible ties to terrorists, he should have been on federal law enforcement’s radar. Mateen was a “known quantity,” according to sources. Yet Abell’s report about a suspicious Middle Eastern oddball matching Mateen’s description who wanted to purchase level 3 body armor and bulk ammo failed to set off any alarm bells.

Abell and his staff at Lotus Gunworks were vigilant and did the right thing, but a dangerous terrorist still somehow “slipped through the cracks.”

What happened?

Former NSA analyst John Schindler, writing in the New York Observer, has some ideas.

In 21st-century America, we have created a perverse incentive structure where fear of accusations of Islamophobia and/or racism takes priority over anything else, even preventing violence. While nobody could have foreseen the exact attack that Omar Mateen perpetrated, it’s abundantly clear that he was on track to do something awful, including murder. Yet nothing was done, even though warnings were abundant.

Simply put, any American today who is accused of Islamophobia faces a ruined life with loss of employment and social stigma. Whereas the cost of not preventing mass murder is merely hurt feelings and regret. In such an era, it’s difficult to find too much fault with the FBI. Per the cliché, they were only following orders.

All the same, it bears asking why the Bureau went for the direct approach, bringing Mateen in for questioning, instead of watching him from a distance. Any time you bring a possible suspect in for interrogation, you’re showing your hand—which isn’t always wise. Particularly given Mateen’s known ties to a notorious Orlando jailbird-turned-radical-imam, there were investigative avenues of approach here that were apparently not taken, with fateful consequences.

However, the FBI was following the lead of its political masters. It’s hardly a big secret that President Obama from the moment he arrived at the White House put the kibosh on any discussion of radical Islam as a security problem, even in classified channels. In 2009, the administration banned politically loaded words like “jihad” even in classified Intelligence Community assessments discussing terrorism – a message that was received loud and clear in the counterterrorism community. Missing the next 9/11 could be survived, career-wise, while accusations of Islamophobia would not be with Barack Obama in the White House.

And we still have seven more months of President Failure’s lethal incompetence to go. Pray it goes by quickly — and that the next president puts the interests of the nation ahead of political correctness.