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Federal Civil Suit: Families of Pulse Nightclub Victims Sue Facebook, Google and Twitter

Tue December 20 2016 1:37 pm
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Families of the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting are suing Facebook, Google and Twitter. CBS News justice reporter Paula Reid joins CBSN with more on the civil suit.

The families of three victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando have filed a lawsuit against three tech giants, alleging they provided “material support” to the Islamic State militant group, Fox News reported Monday.

The families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero filed a complaint in the eastern district of Michigan against Facebook, Twitter and Google (YouTube) for allegedly providing platforms that influenced the radicalization of gunman Omar Mateen.

The early morning June 12, 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub targeted the LGBTQ community, killing 49 people and injuring 53 — the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Mateen said during phone calls at the scene with police crisis hostage negotiators that the attack on Pulse was a protest against U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State; swore allegiance Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); and said the shooting was “triggered” by the U.S. killing of Abu Waheeb in Iraq the previous month. Mateen was not found to have connections or to be a member of the terror group.

However, Mateen visited Saudi Arabia for an eight-day trip in 2011 and a ten-day trip in 2012. The second trip was organized by the Islamic Center at New York University. Twelve New York City police officers and groups from Columbia and Yale were also on the trip, which included visits to Mecca and Medina. Also during the time period of the second trip, Mateen traveled to the United Arab Emirates. FBI Director James Comey said Saudi officials helped investigate Mateen’s trips. In June 2016, the House Intelligence Committee said that U.S. investigators “are searching for details about the Saudi Arabia trips.

Mateen worked as a G4S security guard with a concealed carry license. The security company renonwned as the largest in the world based on revenue, was under scrutiny regarding it personnel vetting procedures, following the Pulse nightclub mass shooting. The FBI investigated Mateen in May 2013 after he made “inflammatory” remarks to coworkers that his family was linked to al-Qaeda and that he had joined Hezbollah. FBI Director James Comey commented on the contradictions within Mateen’s statements because al-Qaeda and Hezbollah are rivals of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are also rivals against each other. The FBI interviewed Mateen twice after opening an investigation regarding the inflammatory, terrorist-related remarks. During the interviews, Mateen admitted to making the inflammatory statements, but “explained that he said them in anger because his co-workers were teasing him.” The investigation was closed after 10 months — concluding that Mateen was not a threat. Mateen had been placed on a terrorist watch list while the investigation was under way, but he was removed from it afterwards.

Mateen was investigated again by the FBI in July 2014, when he was linked to Moner Mohammad Abu Salha — an American who had traveled to Syria and committed a suicide bombing in late May 2014. Moner Mohammad Abu Salha had also posted a video showing himself eating his passport and setting it on fire. The two had been acquainted and “attended the same mosque” in the Orlando area. The FBI investigation, however, was more focused on suicide bomber Abu Salha, not Mateen. Moner Mohammad Abu Salha killed himself and several Syrian troops during a truck bomb attack in Ariha, Syria. Moner Mohammad Abu Salha became the first known American suicide bomber to die in Syria. During a 9-1-1 call by Mateen during the Pulse nightclub attack, Mateen told a 9-1-1 operator that the shooting was inspired by Abu-Salha. Both Abu-Salha and Mateen lived in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Twitter has worked to suspend accounts that appear affiliated with terror groups supportive of the Islamic State, even though federal law protects tech giants from liability of communications transmitted by users in the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The lawsuits are directed at the tech companies and the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

The lawsuit alleges that without “Twitter, Facebook, and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” the lawsuit alleges, according to Fox News.

The families are represented by the same lawyer who is also suing Facebook, Google, and Twitter, in a case representing the family of California college student Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in the terrorist attacks in Paris last year.

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