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Obama: No Direct Evidence That Terrorist Group Directed Orlando Attack


And I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington where President Obama has this morning been addressing the weekend shooting in Orlando. He's been speaking this morning at the White House, and NPR's Scott Horsley is there. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What has the president been saying?

HORSLEY: Well, the president has described what we know so far about the shooting in Orlando as an apparent case of homegrown extremism. He suggests that the killer in this case was inspired by extremists possibly operating online, but he said there is no direct evidence yet that anyone outside as part of an organized terror group directed this attack or that the killings in Orlando were part of some larger plot.

INSKEEP: OK. So this case of this matches in some way what we've been hearing from our justice correspondent Carrie Johnson who describes this man dialing 911 during the attack to pledge allegiance to ISIS. But there was not any evidence that we knew of that he had been in contact with ISIS beforehand, right?

HORSLEY: That's right. But this is still an open investigation, and the president has just wrapped up a briefing. He heard from both his FBI director and the director of the National Counterterroism Center as well as a lot of folks - the Homeland Security secretary, the deputy attorney general.

And there's still an open question. But from what they know now, it appears this was a case of someone who was inspired by extremism, but not necessarily directed by any outside terrorist group. The president also revisited the argument he raised yesterday in comments about how easy it is in this country for someone who is bent on mayhem to get his hands on a very powerful killing weapon.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. That is pretty much leaning toward gun control without explicitly advocating it in this explosive situation. But he made that statement yesterday about we have to decide what kind of a country we want to live in. That's what he's talking about again today?

HORSLEY: And he's certainly raised that before in the wake of other mass killings, most notably the Sandy Hook killing which he thought might've changed the sort of political calculation enough to actually push for more gun safety measures. At that time in early 2013, the president invested considerable political capital in pushing that. Of course, it stalled in the Senate when it failed to overcome a filibuster.

There is talk now on the Hill by some Democrats of revisiting the question of gun safety measures and Obama said weak gun laws - he said today weak gun laws make it easy for disturbed individuals to get powerful guns.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that, Scott Horsley, because we heard earlier on the program from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president. The question on the table was what law could you pass that would keep guns out of the hands of this man who entirely - aside from his Second Amendment rights - was a security guard who could have any number of legitimate reasons to own a gun? So what law could you pass that would keep a gun out of his hands?

And her response had to do with terror watch list. Maybe if there had been a broader list, a broader database it would've captured this man who had been of interest to the FBI in the past. And there might have been a background check triggered that would have kept a gun out of his hands. How, if at all, does that match up with what the president has been saying and advocating on gun control?

HORSLEY: Well, it's a good question and certainly this administration has advocated for making it harder for folks who are on the existing terrorism watchlist to buy a gun. Right now you can be on that terrorism watch list and at that - that alone would not prevent you from buying a gun.

A question that's been raised in last 24 hours here is this killer was on the FBI's radar screen. He'd been investigated, not once but twice. President Obama said today the FBI followed procedures when the killer was watched by the agency, and, as we now know, those investigations were closed with no action being taken that would have even put this man on the existing terror watch list...


HORSLEY: So, you know, what additional legislation might be - or policy...

INSKEEP: Let me...

HORSLEY: ...Procedures might be adopted is an open question...

INSKEEP: Scott...

HORSLEY: ...Since in this case he was on the radar screen and...

INSKEEP: Scott let me just interrupt you right there. I'm going to stop you there because we're going to listen to a bit of the president - the tape from this appearance just coming in.


BARACK OBAMA: We're still looking at all the motivations of the killer. But as a reminder that regardless of race religion faith or sexual orientation we are all Americans.

INSKEEP: Just a bit of President Obama speaking earlier today about the weekend shooting in Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.