ISIS claims responsibility for Orlando nightclub shooting

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CBS News: Gunman Pledged Allegiance To ISIS

Islamic State's Amaq news agency said on Sunday that the Islamist militant group was responsible for the shooting that killed at least 50 people in a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

"The armed attack that targeted a gay night club in the city of Orlando in the American state of Florida which left over 100 people dead or injured was carried out by an Islamic State fighter," Amaq said.

This is a breaking news update. Please refresh the page for the latest and see earlier reporting below.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Omar S. Mateen, the Florida resident suspected of killing 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, called 911 before the shooting and swore allegiance to Islamic State, NBC News said on Twitter.

In a posting on its web site, MSNBC said Mateen swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The gunman killed 50 people and injured 53 in a crowded gay nightclub in the tourist hub of Orlando, Florida, early on Sunday before being shot dead by police, authorities said, in what appeared the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

The shooter was identified as Omar S. Mateen, a man that a senior FBI official said might have had leanings toward Islamic State militants. Officials described the attack as a "terrorism incident" though cautioned that the suspected Islamist connection required further investigation.

Images from the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting:

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Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting
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ISIS claims responsibility for Orlando nightclub shooting
Orlando Police officers direct family members away from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Brandon Shuford, left, waits down the street from the scene of a shooting involving multiple fatalities at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Bystanders wait down the street from a multiple shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, center right, and Orlando Police Chief John Mina, center left, arrive to a news conference after a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Jermaine Towns, left, and Brandon Shuford wait down the street from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Towns said his brother was in the club at the time. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Jermaine Towns, left, and Brandon Shuford wait down the street from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Towns said his brother was in the club at the time. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club, where as many as 20 people have been injured after a gunman opened fire, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Demetrice Naulings sobs outside the Orlando Police Headquarters where police are interviewing witnesses in the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Concerned friends and family of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting wait outside of the Orlando Police Department on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Ray Rivera, DJ at the Pulse nightclub, is consoled by a friend outside of the Orlando Police Department on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
FBI assistant special agent in charge Ron Hopper, center, answers questions from members of the media after a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Listening are Orlando Police Chief John Mina, left, and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Police stand in front of one of the houses that officials indicated was connected to the Orlando shooter in Port St. Lucie, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Police stand in front of one of the houses that officials indicated was connected to the Orlando shooter in Port St. Lucie, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Officers arrive at the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
An Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT member arrives to the scene of a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT members arrive to a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Police cars and emergency vehicles surround the Pulse Orlando nightclub, the scene of a fatal shooting, in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
A police officer stands guard outside the Orlando Regional Medical Center hospital after a fatal shooting at a nearby Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Emergency personnel wait with stretchers at the emergency entrance to Orlando Regional Medical Center hospital for the arrival of patients from the scene of a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Police cars surround the Pulse Orlando nightclub, the scene of a fatal shooting, in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orlando Police Chief John Mina and other city officials answer the media's questions about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski
Police lock down Orange Avenue around Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman in a shooting rampage in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski
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President Barack Obama described the shooting as "an act of terror" and "an act of hate", saying the massacre of 50 people at a packed gay nightclub was an attack on all Americans.

The death toll given by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and police to reporters made the attack the deadliest single shooting incident in U.S. history, eclipsing the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech university, which left 32 dead.

"Today we're dealing with something that we never imagined and is unimaginable," Dyer said. Recalling earlier estimates that 20 people had been killed, he added, "It is with great sadness I share that we not have 20 but 50 casualties (dead), in addition to the shooter. There are another 53 ...hospitalized."

A police officer working as a security guard inside the Pulse nightclub, which has operated in downtown Orlando since 2004, exchanged fire with the suspect at about 2 a.m. EDT, police officials said.

See photos of the suspected gunman, Omar Mateen:

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ISIS claims responsibility for Orlando nightclub shooting
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A hostage situation quickly developed, and three hours later a squad of officers stormed the club and shot dead the gunman. It was unclear when the gunman shot the victims.

"Do we consider this an act of terrorism? Absolutely, we are investigating this from all parties' perspective as an act of terrorism," said Danny Banks, special agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "Whether that is domestic terrorist activity or an international one, that is something we will certainly get to the bottom of."

RELATED: Witnesses describe the frightening scene inside the club

Orlando Shooting: Witness Reacts

When asked if the FBI suspected the gunman might have had inclinations toward militant Islam, including a possible sympathy for Islamic State, Ronald Hopper, an assistant FBI agent in charge, told reporters: "We do have suggestions that the individual may have leanings toward that particular ideology. But right now we can't say definitively."

The FBI said it was still trying to pin down whether the mass shooting was a hate crime against gays or a terrorist act.

President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to provide any assistance needed to Florida police investigating the shooting, the White House said in a statement.

The attacker was carrying an assault rifle and a handgun, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said. He was also carrying an unidentified "device", Orlando Police Chief John Mina said earlier.

Javer Antonetti, 53, told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that he was near the back of the dance club when he heard gunfire. "There were so many (shots), at least 40," he said. "I saw two guys and it was constant, like 'pow, pow, pow,'."

Video footage showed police officers and civilians carrying injured people away from the club and bending over others who were lying on the ground. Dozens of police cruisers, ambulances and other emergency vehicles could be seen in the area.

'HORRIFIC ACT'

Pulse is described on its website as more than "just another gay club." One of the club's founders and owners, Barbara Poma, opened it in 2004 in an effort to keep alive the spirit of her brother, who died after battling HIV.

The choice of target was especially heart-wrenching for members of the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida said in a statement.

"Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety," the group said. "We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger."

It was the second deadly shooting at an Orlando night spot in as many nights. Late Friday, a man thought to be a deranged fan fatally shot Christina Grimmie, a rising singing star and a former contestant on "The Voice", as she was signing autographs after a concert in the central Florida city.

Orlando has a population of 270,930 and is the home of the famed Disney World amusement park and many other tourist attractions that attracted 62 million visitors in 2014.

(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Chris Michaud in New York and Mary Milliken in Los Angeles; Writing by Frank McGurty and Scott Malone; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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