How is Orlando shooting linked to Islamic State?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. It seems that ISIS is quite quickly claiming responsibility for Orlando shooting. Could this mean that the shooter was at least partially guided by ISIS or a lone wolf theory is probably more solid?

2. He has attacked a gay club. Does it tell us something about the attacker in your opinion (like homophobia leading to terrorism)?

Answers:

Christopher Anzalone, Ph.D. Candidate, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University

1. The evidence currently available seems to suggest that Omar Mateen was acting as a “lone wolf” who, during his attack orally affiliated himself, so to speak, with IS rather than the attacking being operationally planned by the organization directly.  Evidence showing an operational link of varying degrees could be forthcoming, of course, but initially this seems to more likely have not been an “official” IS operation.  While IS’ media apparatus was quick to “claim” the Orlando attack, it did not provide details not already reported in the news media, instead issuing a generic claim that Mateen was a “soldier of the Caliphate” based mostly, it seems, on his reported telephone call to police during the night club siege.  This fits an IS pattern in claiming credit for lone wolf attacks as being “inspired by” IS leaders and ideologues such as spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani.  IS media did this with previous attacks in Canada (Ottawa and in Québec), San Bernadino, Sydney, and New York City.  In this way, IS is able to project an image of influence and power without expending any economic, logistical, or even manpower resources, making such claims particularly useful and cost-effective, so to speak, since they make it seem that IS is more powerful and far-reaching than it actually is.  This is particularly important now because IS is being pushed back significantly on the battlefield in northern Aleppo governorate in Syria and in and around the Iraqi city of Falluja.

The style of attack, a single individual armed (legally) with powerful firearms, is not unique to IS.  Al-Qa’ida Central and its regional affiliates (particularly Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and Al-Shabab in Somalia) and other jihadi groups, such as factions of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan, have all called for similar “lone wolf”-style attacks in Western Europe and North America but particularly in the U.S.  The U.S. is a particularly attractive target not only because it is seen by jihadis as the fountainhead of the “new Crusaders,” but also due to the ease of obtaining a firearm (compared to Canada or Western European countries).  Jihadis have also advocated “lone wolf” attacks using homemade explosives and even knives, such as in the murder of off-duty British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May 2013.  Indeed, it was Al-Qa’ida Central ideologue and leader Adam Gadahn who in 2012 strongly urged “lone wolves” in the U.S. to take advantage of many U.S. states’ gun laws to arm themselves and carry out attacks if they are unable to make it to one of the “fields of jihad” in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, or Iraq.  While IS has capitalized on the idea, it did not originate it.

2.

Yes, unfortunately there is a long history of homophobia leading to expressions of violence.  It is certainly not unique to Muslims.  Indeed, there is a long history just in the United States of anti-gay violence both at places such as night clubs and against individual gays.  The choice of target was also likely influenced by the fact that it is a “soft target” in that it is relatively easy to enter and does not have heavy security like a military base or government building would.  It also is heavily populated, offering a large group of targets, which is ideal for such a terrorist attack (which by definition seeks to cause as many civilian casualties as possible in a bid to incite fear in the general population).

For IS itself, homosexuality/sodomy and other forms of sexual deviancy (in their minds) such as fornication is not only a moral crime that is forbidden by Islamic law, it is a prime example of the way that the non-Muslim “West” has polluted Islamic societies through its pervasive cultural penetration and influence, which to IS is akin to a form of cultural colonialism.  This position is not unique to IS but is also held by other jihadi groups as well as some non-violent Islamist groups and individuals.  They see the presence of homosexuality, fornication, etc. in Muslim-majority societies as being something caused by the penetration of (to them) immoral and “secular Western” ideologies that represent the moral degradation of the capitalist West.  Therefore, the choice of a gay night club has particular symbolic and creedal/political power, though it is as yet unclear whether Omar Mateen actually based his decision on any of this; he may have been motivated instead more by personal bigotry rather than the grand narrative expressed in IS media and by IS leaders and ideologues.

There is now evidence that Mateen not only expressed his solidarity to IS but also to other militant groups, including rivals of IS such as Jabhat al-Nusra, suggesting that he was not solely influenced and “inspired” by IS but by a combination of feelings of alienation, violence, and bigotry.

Binoy KampmarkSenior Lecturer, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

1. IS did claim responsibility through their news agency, but that the circumstances of such responsibility must always be taken cautiously. The Sydney hostage hold up also involved a man who had claimed loyalty to the IS, but he had been erratic in his ideology throughout his time in Australia. Man Haron Monis, as he was known, could never be seen to be an equipped, guided IS figure. This Orlando case may turn out to be different, but there is more an indication of disturbance and desire to claim some direction. Terrorist commentators, in that sense, have come up with the confection called ‘lone wolf’ to cover such unclear circumstances, but I am simply not satisfied with that definition either.

2. Given the extreme tendency of the person in question, an attack on a gay club is not a surprise. Islamic fundamentalist belief decries homosexual conduct. What is a surprise is the sheer scale of the slaughter. Islamic State has tended to encourage spectacular and concentrated cases of violence, and that may well be a marker.

Harvey Kushner, Director, Homeland Security and Terrorism Institute, Long Island University

1. Why wouldn’t ISIS take credit? This is exactly what they have been encouraging. ISIS has easy geographical access to Europe not as much with the United States. ISIS has been calling for these types of Islamic terrorist attacks. To call this a “lone wolf” attack is completely wrong. A link exists between these attacks and militant Islam whether or not ISIS ordered or inspired the event.

2. It is well known how ISIS and radical Islam treats the LGBT community.

Greg BartonResearch Professor in Global Islamic Politics, Deputy UNESCO Chair in Interreligious & Intercultural Relations, Deakin University

What we know of Omar Mateen is that he was violently abusive and homophobic. This certainly was a deliberate, cold-blooded crime driven, in part, by hatred. The fact that Mateen phoned 911 to record his swearing of allegiance to ISIS immediately before begin his planned attack, and the fact that ISIS was quick to claim the attack means that it looks the sort of messy, crowd-sourced, attacks that we are beginning to associate with ISIS – attacks like the San Bernadino attacks. There appears to have been intercepted communications picked up by police in the months prior suggesting some association online with known extremists. Further reinforcing the suggestion of this being a terrorist attack is the cool, deliberate way that the attacker set about his gruesome business – achieving great lethality and giving the apparently deliberate suggestion of taking hostages, maintained for 3 hours, suggest something more than a simple hate crime. Moreover, most hate crimes involve individuals and target sites known to the attacker (schools, workplaces, even abortion clinics) the choice of a remote target site completely unconnected with the attacker’s previous social circle suggests that this is a different sort of crime than the, all too familiar, shootings that plague modern America.

Daniel Baldino, Senior Lecturer, Politics & International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

While details are still emerging and the shooters motivations are not clear-cut, the tragic incident appears to be a violent hate crime against the LBGT community.

Mateen also appears a bigoted lone wolf type. While he had expressed solidarity with ISIS, no ties with the terror group have been confirmed. The FBI had actually investigated this guy in the past. So it is likely that Mateen was self-radicalised. And he was potentially motivated by many factors including both homophobia and ISIS firebrand fundamentalism.

But it is not surprising for ISIS to quickly claim responsibility – ISIS want to use and manipulate this incident for propaganda purposes, in part, in an effort to reinforce both their relevancy and their global reach.

Unfortunately, hate crimes against the LBGT community remain an ongoing problem. What sets this incident apart is the exceptional scale of the indiscriminate violence.

Mateen had access to a number of weapons including a military standard AR 15-type assault rifle. Such a weapon is capable of firing many deadly rounds within a relatively short time-frame. When used within a crowded nightclub, this was always going to be a recipe for disaster.

Ryan King, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Ohio State University

1. I would guess that the shooter was motivated by ISIS, but I would be surprised if there was significant coordination with them. If this were coordinated by a terrorist organization then we probably would have seen multiple attackers or multiple locations attacked simultaneously.

2. Perhaps the club was chosen, in part, because it allowed him to cause mass carnage while also expressing his dislike of homosexuality.

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