The terrorist group ISIS on Thursday again claimed responsibility for Sunday’s horrific Las Vegas mass shooting, adding a new detail about killer Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retired real estate investor who gunned down nearly 600 people, killing 58, as he sprayed a crowd of 22,000 at a country music concert with machine gun fire from a 32nd-floor window in the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
The ISIS claim is unusual, experts say, being the fourth such published statement from the group in the five days since the horrifying massacre took place. In most past terrorist attacks, ISIS has issued a single statement taking responsibility for the action and has not followed up.
But the new statement released Thursday is not only the fourth from an ISIS publication, but it was published in the third separate source — after two statements through the ISIS-linked online propaganda agency Amaq, and a third the following day published by the “official” ISIS news agency Nashir.
The latest statement, released on Thursday night, appeared in the form of a slickly produced “infographic” appearing in a weekly online magazine published by ISIS, Al-Naba, or in English simply, The News. The online publication is described as “an Arabic weekly newspaper on provincial military activities and regional events by the Islamic State.”
1. After ISIS claimed Vegas, I was waiting for them to release Naba, their weekly newsletter, to see if anything new emerged. Naba is out: pic.twitter.com/yX8AN3OdSX
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) October 5, 2017
While, according to a translation of the Arabic text by the terrorism monitoring group SITE Intel, the wording accompanying the graphic is basically a rehash of the deadly events on Sunday night, which could have been easily gathered from public media.
But in addition to again claiming Paddock as a “soldier of the Caliphate” — that is, a soldier of ISIS — according to New York Times terrorism correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, the text contains one new piece of “information” about the shooter, stating that Paddock — to whom ISIS refers by what the group claims is his “war name,” Abu Abd al-Barr al-Amriki — “converted to Islam six months ago.”
While in its initial statement four days earlier, ISIS claimed that Paddock has converted to become a Muslim, the Thursday graphic published in Al-Naba is the first time that ISIS has given a specific time frame for Paddock’s claimed “conversion.” If ISIS is telling the truth — and so far law enforcement officials have dismissed the terror group’s claims categorically — Paddock would have gone through his conversion sometime in March or April.
But while experts such as Callimachi have also expressed deep skepticism about the ISIS claim of credit for the Las Vegas attack and the details about Paddock’s supposed conversion, many remain hesitant to write off the claims completely.
According to Callimachi, who says that she does not take the ISIS claims “at face value,” it would be highly unusual, though not unprecedented, for ISIS to knowingly make a false claim of responsibility for a terror attack to which it had no connection whatsoever.
“I’ve been covering ISIS since 2014 and since then I have kept a timeline. Every time ISIS claimed an attack in West, I jotted it down,” the Times correspondent wrote on her Twitter account. “Months later, I’ve gone back over list and annotated what investigation found. My list is not complete but of the more than 50 cases I have annotated, I could only find three false claims.”
— J. Walker (@Walker72John) October 6, 2017
Callimachi went on to write that contrary to popular stereotype, ISIS does not simply claim responsibility for every terrorist attack that makes the news. In fact, she noted, there have been numerous attacks that appear to have an ISIS link but for which the group did not claim credit at all.
“These are attacks where we know it was them,” she wrote.
Another terror expert, Raffaello Pantucci, international security director of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, said that the use of a “kunya,” or “war name” in ISIS statements — as ISIS has now used for Paddock in two separate statements — normally indicates a connection between the terror group and an attacker.
“At the same time, it is also possible that the group would manipulate this,” Pantucci cautioned. “Which would be a way of showing a link without it necessarily being real.”
So far, experts say, ISIS has provided no evidence whatsoever for its claim that Las Vegas mass shooter Stephen Paddock was an ISIS “soldier.” Such evidence often includes video recordings made by an attacker or even real-time image of an attack, uploaded to the internet.
[Featured Image by John Locher/AP Images]