US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to the victims of today's deadly attack on a gay club in Florida.
The attack by 29-year-old Omar Mateen on Pulse club in Orlando in the early hours of Sunday (June 12) has left at least 50 dead and a further 53 injured, authorities have confirmed.
Addressing media at a White House conference this evening, Mr Obama confirmed that while investigations into the tragedy will be ongoing, "we know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate."
In a sober and moving statement, the president described the LGBT venue, which was hosting a Latin-themed salsa night when the shooting took place, as "more than a nightclub", and said that an attack on the gay community in the United States was an "attack on all Americans."
"This is an especially hard day for all our friends, our fellow Americans, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," Mr Obama said.
"The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing; to live. The place they were attacked is more than a nightclub; it is a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights."
"This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation is an attack on all of us, and the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country."
He added: "No act of hate or terror will ever change who we are, or the values that make us Americans."
Witnesses have described the moment Mateen, a US citizen and Florida resident, opened fire on crowds at Pulse, which describes itself the "hottest gay bar in Orlando".
After firing at club-goers, the attacker - who was armed with an assault rifle, handgun, and "some kind of device" - took several hostages inside the venue.
He was later killed during a shootout with police after an armed response team stormed the venue approximately three hours after the attack began.
While Mateen’s motivations remain unclear, authorities are looking into potential links to Islamic extremism, as well as possible personal vendetta against the LGBT community.
His father, Mr Seddique, told NBC News that his son had been angered several weeks ago by the sight of two men kissing in Miami, and said he believed the incident had "nothing to do with religion".
He added: "We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident. We weren’t aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country."
US Congressman Alan Grayson said he believed it was "no coincidence" the attack happened in a gay club.
"It may be we’ve seen the commission of an awful hate crime," he said.
A state of emergency has been declared in Orlando by mayor Buddy Dyer, while authorities have confirmed that they are treating the massacre – the worst mass shooting in modern US history – as an "act of terror".
Meanwhile, several Orlando blood banks have reportedly lifted the ban on gay men donating blood as local medical centres struggle to cope with the atrocity.