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Orlando Shooter's Mosque Struggles To Understand Monster In Its Midst

Tim Padgett
Dr. Syed Rahman, imam of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce.

Omar Mateen – the man who allegedly committed the worst mass shooting in U.S. history Sunday – belonged to a mosque in Fort Pierce. But the head of that congregation says that while Mateen may have been a quarrelsome adolescent, he gave no indication he was capable of such an atrocity.

Police say Mateen killed 49 people, and injured more than 50 others, at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning before police killed him in a shootout.

Mateen was a Muslim who sometimes attended the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce. He was also a private security guard – which is why the mosque’s imam, Dr. SyedRahman, said he never suspected Mateen was on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. In fact, he said, just the opposite.

"He was working for the security and he was, we presume, his background everything was checked," Rahman told WLRN. "So why would he do something like that? Because we were thinking that he might be a safety factor for us."

This is not the first time, however, that the Fort Pierce mosque has had a brush with a terrorist. In 2014, U.S.-born suicide bomber Moner Mohammad Abusalha blew up a restaurant in Syria, and U.S. law enforcement at the time suggested he had a connection with the Islamic Center.

It was Mateen's apparent ties to Abusalha that landed him on the FBI list. But Rahman said Abusalha was never a member of his mosque.

Rahman described the 29-year-old Mateen as an aggressive, body-building macho type as a kid – but said he’d become a more quiet adult, even though family friends describe him as an abusive husband with a short fuse. And while Islam does teach that homosexuality is a sin, Rahman said Mateen did not pick up his violent homophobia from the mosque.

"There is no teaching about extremism in this mosque," said Rahman, who insisted Mateen was radicalized online. "The people who come, we don't ask them [if] you are homosexual or not. And you are not authority to go in the community and start killing the sinner. It is not written anywhere in the religion that you go and kill 50 people in the middle of the night."

Rahman said the Orlando massacre will make life even harder for moderate Muslims, who represent the vast majority of Islam's adherents in the U.S. and the world.

"Moderate Islam is what Islam is," Rahman said. "We know only one Islam, which is moderate Islam. And all these people [like Mateen] they came and they're using the name of Islam, and they are bringing a bad name to us and our children.

"For the moderate and 98 percent of the Muslims it has become harder and harder to practice Islam."

Rahman said as a physician he fears his non-Muslim patients will now equate him with alleged terrorists like Mateen.