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Greg Bluestein

Johnny Isakson: It’s time to declare war on ‘radical Islam’

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U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson talks during an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial board. KENT D. JOHNSON/ KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson talks during an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial board. KENT D. JOHNSON/ KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said Monday that the shooting rampage that left 50 dead at a gay nightclub in Orlando at the hands of a killer who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State proved it was time to declare a “no holds barred” war against Islamic terrorism.

“There’s only one thing you can do with people who will kill themselves to kill you, burn you in a cage on the town square or blow themselves up,” Isakson said during an editorial board meeting at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ve got to kill them first. That ought to be our mantra.”

Isakson, who is seeking a third term in November, said he wants both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to commit to sending more ground troops to Iraq, Syria and other places where the Islamic State and other terror groups are taking root.

“We’ve got to be willing to take the battle to ISIS. Right now, they’re taking the battle to us, and yesterday it was in Orlando,” he said, adding: “Lone wolves are hard to stop, but I will never say never.”

Isakson, like most Republicans, was wary of any call to restrict military-style weapons and other firearms restrictions in the wake of the shootings. Authorities said the gunman, Omar Mateen, used a military-style AR-15 rifle to mow down innocent revelers in the Orlando nightclub.

“You have to be very careful about abridging constitutional rights,” he said. “Just because someone’s buying a weapon doesn’t mean they are a killer. But taking away someone’s right to buy weapons will not take away the right for killers to buy guns.”

When pressed on whether he’s open to restricting certain types of powerful weapons, Isakson didn’t leave much wiggle room.

“Finding the right line is something we are going to have to do through dialogue and hard work,” he said, adding: “I’m open to discussing anything. But I am a staunch defender of my constitutional rights and the rights of the citizens I represent. And that has to be the foundation of whatever you do.”

He also said the fallout from the shootings will likely show that the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies need more resources to track suspected terrorists, though he was reluctant to talk specifics until the investigation is complete.

And he said both Trump and Clinton had a sterling opportunity to put national security at the center of the presidential debate.

“I want them to say we’re taking the gloves off, no holds bar, we’re going after radical Islam – wherever it rears its ugly head,” he said. “What’s happened in Orlando is just a symptom of what else will happen in the world if we don’t stop it.”

He added: “Radical Islam declared war on us. We ought to declare war on them.”

Catch all of the AJC’s coverage of the shootings here.