Florida gun shop alerted FBI to body armor inquiry

By KEVIN JOHNSON | USA Today | Published: June 18, 2016

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Last month, a Florida gun shop alerted FBI agents to a suspicious inquiry about a type of body armor requested by a prospective customer who the shop owners now believe may have been Orlando shooter Omar Mateen.

The FBI confirmed the contact Friday, but said that "no meaningful investigative follow up'' was conducted because Lotus Gunworks in Jensen Beach, Fla., did not collect information that would have identified the person.

More stories about the Orlando nightclub shootings

The contact was made in May, according to the FBI, when agents visited the dealer while following up on an "unrelated investigative matter."

"During this visit, Lotus personnel advised that there had been an individual who had been in the store days earlier asking about a specific type of body armor,'' the FBI stated. "Because the store did not carry that particular style of body armor, it referred this unknown individual elsewhere but was unable to collect any information about him, to include name, date of birth, charge card, telephonic information or e-mail address.''

Following Sunday's shooting at the Pulse, Lotus notified the FBI that the person who visited the store the previous month resembled the nightclub gunman.

Lotus representatives were not immediately available for comment Friday.

"Unfortunately, given the lack information about this individual,'' the FBI stated, "agents were unable to conduct any meaningful investigative follow up.''

The unsettling disclosure comes as federal investigators have been scouring the gunman's activities prior to the attack, including possible information about Mateen that had been provided to law enforcement and other authorities.

Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey provided a history of the FBI's contacts with the gunman, which included a 10-month investigation of possible terror connections. The inquiry was prompted by provocative statements Mateen made to co-workers in 2013 while working as a security guard at a Florida courthouse.

Mateen, according to Comey, had claimed family connections to al-Qaeda and a desire to martyr himself if investigators sought to raid his home.

The investigation was closed when authorities concluded that Mateen made the statements out of anger, because his colleagues had allegedly ridiculed his Muslim faith, Comey said He added that Mateen was interviewed two times during the inquiry which also featured surveillance and the use of confidential informants.

Months later, Mateen again drew the attention of agents when he was identified as a suspected associate of American-born suicide bomber Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, who died in a 2014 attack in Syria. At that time, investigators concluded that Mateen had no association of consequence with the bomber.

"We will work all day and all night to understand (Mateen's) path to that terrible night,'' Comey said Monday. "We're going to look hard at our work to see if there is something that we should have done differently. So far, the honest answer is, I don't think so.''


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