In the immediate aftermath of the horrific Las Vegas mass shooting Sunday night, the terrorist group ISIS was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, and United States law enforcement officials were just as quick to dismiss the ISIS claims as false. Most terrorism experts agreed with law enforcement, saying that the massacre carried out by a 64-year-old multimillionaire retiree named Stephen Paddock matched few, if any, of the usual ISIS attack trademarks.
But on Wednesday, two top terrorism experts broke with the consensus of their colleagues, penning an article for the online news site, Daily Maverick, making a case that “the Islamic State in some way knew Stephen Paddock,” and the ISIS claim to be connected to the Las Vegas attack, which killed 58 and wounded more nearly 530, “can’t be ignored.”
The Daily Maverick is based in South Africa and models itself on such U.S.-based sites as The Huffington Post and Daily Beast. Read the entire article by Jasmine Opperman and Veryan Khan of the private Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium by accessing this link.
Read previous Inquisitr coverage of the alleged ISIS-Stephen Paddock connection at this link.
As of Wednesday, three days after the devastating attack, no hard evidence has emerged to link Paddock to ISIS in any way. In fact, most of the claims that the shooter, who was already “descending into madness” in the months leading up to the attack, according to an ABC News report, was an ISIS terrorist have been rapidly debunked as “fake news.”
So why do Opperman and Khan believe that the ISIS claims of a connection to Paddock require a closer look by official investigators? The first clue, the two experts say, is that though the initial claims of responsibility were issued through Amaq, an ISIS-linked propaganda outlet, genuine ISIS claims of responsibility for terror attacks have come through a different ISIS media outlet. That outlet, Nashir, is the official ISIS news agency.
“With both the Paris (11/2015) and Brussels (03/2016) attacks, it was only after Nashir issued claims of credit that the attack became officially recognized,” the TRAC experts wrote.
Amaq issued the initial claims that the Las Vegas mass shooting was an ISIS attack, but Nashir then followed with what the experts called the “pièce de résistance claim,” which was published in English, as well as in Arabic. It was the Nashir statement that gave Paddock a “war name,” Abu Abdul al-Bar al-Amriki, an ISIS honor usually reserved for the group’s most celebrated terrorists.
The two experts also point out that in at least two previous propaganda videos, ISIS has singled out Las Vegas as a potential target for attacks; a target made especially attractive due to its reputation as “Sin City,” the TRAC experts say.
Most terrorism experts have trashed the ISIS claims in part because Paddock, they say, does not fit the profile of a typical ISIS terrorist recruit. Rukmini Callimachi, a New York Times terrorism correspondent, said that Paddock’s race and age were his first indication that ISIS was fabricating its claim.
“If this man turns out to be ISIS, he will not just be an outlier, he will be the oldest ISIS recruit in the U.S. by nearly a decade,” the Times reporter said.
But Opperman and Khan say that while Paddock’s age would make him unusual for an ISIS recruit, his race would not.
“In Syria and Iraq the Islamic State has frequently claimed attacks by white attackers, even recent converts. Their Caravan of Martyrs, referring to images of those killed mostly during suicide attacks, has images of Caucasian suicide bombers, who travelled from the West to fight on behalf of the Islamic State,” they wrote.
The problem, the two TRAC experts say, is simply, “Somehow, no one can believe that this could have happened in the United States.”
ISIS, they say, does not have strict requirements for membership. Instead, the group considers itself a “great redeemer” and accepts anyone willing to express sympathy with its terrorist goals.
“The Islamic State’s attitude from the very beginning… has always been: if you think you are Islamic State, then you are and act so accordingly,” Opperman and Khan wrote. “This applies to anyone and everyone — former drug addicts or prostitutes or non-Muslims.”
Finally, Opperman and Khan say, the stakes for ISIS are simply too high to risk being caught in a lie. ISIS, they wrote, has created an image of itself as all-powerful with a reach that extends to any country, “but it cannot risk this illusion being shattered by false claims,” the TRAC experts said.
While few terrorism experts have expressed agreement with Opperman and Khan’s view, at least one writing in The Atlantic Monthly, has also cautioned that the ISIS claim should not be dismissed without further investigation.
“The idea that the Islamic State simply scans the news in search of mass killings, then sends out press releases in hope of stealing glory, is false,” wrote Graeme Wood, author of the bookThe Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State.
[Featured Image by Star Max/IPx/AP Images]