Assessing the group’s puzzling statement
This morning, the Islamic State’s semi-official news agency, Amaq, took credit for the Las Vegas massacre, which killed 58 and wounded another 515. The likely killer, identified by police as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, was not known to be a supporter of the Islamic State, or indeed a Muslim of any type. For now, the only evidence that the Islamic State was involved is its own assurance—first a press release announcing that a “soldier of the Islamic State” executed the concertgoers, and a follow-up for the baffled, explaining that he converted to Islam months ago. The FBI has stated that it doesn’t believe the attack was related to international terrorism.
The sun has barely risen on Las Vegas, and there may be blood still slick on the Strip. Speculation about mass shootings in the hours after they occur is not just a fool’s game but an impatient fool’s. Evidence will be forthcoming, and these assertions by the Islamic State will be tested against reality. But already I hear a familiar chorus of doubt: The Islamic State will “take credit for anything,” it says, “even hurricanes.
The doubters do not have a preponderance of prior examples on their side. The Islamic State does not claim natural disasters. Its supporters rejoice in them, but they reserve their official media for intentional acts. Of course, insurance agents and Christians, too, sometimes consider the weather “an act of God.”
The vast majority of the Islamic State’s claimed attacks were undertaken by men acting in its name, often after leaving short video statements confirming their intentions. The Amaq news agency is the preferred venue for the initial claim, usually within a day. (Sloppy reporters sometimes mistake the rejoicing of online supporters, meteorological or not, for an official claim.) If they were really so promiscuous with their claims, we would long since have ignored them, as we do claims from other yahoos who have tried to take credit for atrocities authored by others. 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. Amaq may learn details of the attacks from mainstream media—and often gets those details wrong, also like mainstream media—but its claim of credit typically flows from an Amaq-specific source.
This Las Vegas claim may yet turn out to be false as well. They have offered no evidence—no cell-phone video from the killer, pledging allegiance in broken Arabic; no selfies of him, raising a finger of monotheism. Another absent sign of Islamic State involvement is videos from Paddock’s rifle-scope. At attacks like the Holey Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the killers have uploaded real-time images, exclusive and corroborating imagery for Amaq. As with many subsequently verified attacks, we have not yet, in these early hours, seen any such evidence.