JACKSON, MISS– A terrorist attack carried out by Omar Mateen against the patrons of Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida this week has raised concerns of officials at the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security.
“First of all, our thoughts and prayers go out to not only the victims, but the victim’s families of the terrorist attack that was carried out in Orlando, Florida this weekend,” said MOHS Director Rusty Barnes.
After the attack was executed on the LGBTQ nightclub Sunday morning, former co-workers of Mateen’s said that they had made complaints of the attacker being “unhinged” and “homophobic” before, but nothing was done out of fear of being labeled as an islamaphobe, according to Florida Today . Barnes said that Mississippians do not have to worry about backlash when reporting suspicious behavior because of the reporting protocol through the “See Something, Say Something” program.
“See Something, Say Something is not just for those in the first responder community,” said Barnes. “It is also for the citizens…when people see something that does not look right, or something that is out of place in their community, we ask them to call and report that to local authorities, Homeland Security, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Barnes said that oftentimes, suspicious activity is not reported until after a tragic event such as the Orlando terrorist attack, for fear that a threat does not actually exist.
“We ask that you report it, no matter how small you think the information might be,” said Barnes. “What you have may be a small piece to a bigger puzzle.”
The “See Something Say Something Act of 2016” passed the state legislature this year that would prevent retribution towards a person reporting suspicious behavior. Barnes said if someone reported something that was in good faith but inaccurate, this new law would protect that reporting party from legal penalty.
Barnes added that many are afraid to come forward because of the fear of not being political correct.
“There is some concern about being labeled an islamaphobe and all that,” said Barnes. “Our main concern is not politics. Our main concern is the safety of the people of this state. We’re going to do all we can to keep these people safe.”
Mateen was no stranger to the FBI, as he had been investigated twice before and interview by agents, leaving many to wonder how Mateen could have pulled off such an attack when he was in the sights of the government.
“The FBI is the best in the world,” said Barnes. “Who’s to say this young man was not radicalized after he was interview by the FBI? The FBI goes to great extent to interview and investigate all threats that are terrorist related. This subject, he could have been contacted, his thought process could have changed after the interview with the FBI.”
Barnes added the FBI are experts in what they do.
“I don’t think it’s fair for someone to point the finger and to blame the FBI,” said Barnes. “We don’t know the timeline of when this young man was radicalized.”
Barnes said that his fear is that this terrorist attack is being politicized in order to further talks of gun control.
“This is not a gun issue,” said Barnes. “This is an act of terrorism, and this is what we should focus on. Our young people in this country are being radicalized.”
There are over 200,000 pro-ISIS tweet a day, and over 1,700 pro-ISIS media products put out just this year nationwide–including here in Mississippi.
“We get reports on a regular basis. Some of them are valid, some of them may not be,” said Barnes. “But we take them all seriously. When we get reports, we pass on our information to the FBI. We have not had any substantial threats in Mississippi, but we prepare for the worst case scenario”
If something suspicious is discovered or threatening behavior is noticed, Barnes said it needs to be reported, even if it is reported anonymously. Report threatening or suspicious behavior to your local authorities or to the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security directly at 1-888-472-3367.