As the investigation into the bloodiest mass shooting in US history gets underway, federal law enforcement agents are analyzing claims from Islamic jihadist that they are in fact the ones behind the carnage.
A pro-ISIS outlet, Amaq, essentially a propaganda arm of the group, claimed that the identified shooter, Stephen Paddock, was a “soldier of the Caliphate” and that the mass murder rampage was really a jihadist operation.
While police have already stated that no connection exists between Paddock and extremism, some have expressed skepticism.
ISIS is, at least in its own eyes a state, and Amaq, despite claims of neutrality, is its media arm. Reporters have always been extremely confident the claims made on Amaq come from an authoritative source within ISIS, because the extremist group has been very conscious of controlling Amaq for the purposes of accurately spreading its message.
While the possibility of an ISIS connection cannot be absolutely ruled out at this early stage, the likely explanation for the Amaq report is probably more benign.
ISIS is crumbling in the Middle East.
The past several months alone have seen major losses for the group, such as in the groups Iraq center in Mosul and their port enclave in Libya. These losses and others, coupled with the timing of the recently released recording of ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi all indicate that the leadership of the terror group is trying to consolidate some support and maintain the appearance of a robust militant group.
With all of the fanfare and shock surrounding the Las Vegas shooting, ISIS saw a wave that it could ride, even if the claims lack credibility.
The Amaq report was even phrased in such a way as to mask the facts and negate any attempt to confirm the claims. Amaq, for instance, stated that Paddock had “converted to Islam” a few months before without anyone’s knowledge and was lying in wait for the right time to execute an attack.
Even with all the circumstantial evidence in the world, it will be difficult to disprove this claim. Let’s say the FBI has witnesses that Paddock didn’t live a religious lifestyle, and that there were no indications of Islamic practice etc. ISIS will still be able to maintain face with supporters with the claim that Paddock’s transformation was recent and that no evidence of it will be able to be uncovered.
ISIS at this point has nothing really to lose from claiming responsibility for the attack.
But it does have some things to gain.
In addition to the prestige from some swaths of the uninformed who may actually believe the claim of responsibility, ISIS also may be able to generate other actions at the hands of supporters “inspired” by the Las Vegas shooting. Propaganda has worked in generating attacks. Riding the wave of the recently released Al-Baghdadi recording, and perhaps bolstered by a recent stabbing incident in France, the group may be successful in delivering a narrative that lone wolf attacks in Western countries are back with a vengeance.