(ISIS) was behind last week’s massacre in Las Vegas, despite the
jihadis’ persistent claims the shooter acted on their behalf. According
to one leading expert’s analysis, however, the conflicting narratives
might be playing straight into ISIS’s hands.
Despite digging deep
into Stephen Paddock’s background, investigators have struggled to
understand what drove the 64-year-old man, who described himself as a “professional gambler,”
to slaughter 58 people and injure hundreds more when he opened fire
from his 32nd-floor hotel room on crowds attending a country music
concert in Las Vegas. Nothing so far has reportedly led them to believe
ISIS’s claim that Paddock converted to Islam and acted as “a soldier” of
the group’s self-styled caliphate, leaving observers wondering why the
global militant group would risk making such an outlandish,
intentionally false allegation.
Related: ISIS: Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock became Muslim six months before massacre
The answer could lie in a larger plot to exploit the U.S.’s already eroding trust in its leadership.
Islamic State did indeed cultivate Paddock, as it has claimed was the
case, the group surely has some evidence of its engagements with him. If
it does, it may be the case the group is waiting on FBI and other
agencies to dismiss its claim of responsibility for the Las Vegas attack
before posting contradictory evidence online for the world to see,”
terrorism analyst Michael S. Smith II tells Newsweek.
State has been very focused on undermining confidence among civilians
in the West that their technologically superior governments are
competent managers of our collective security,” he adds.
People run outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel after a gunman opened fire on
attendees of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas,
on October 1. Assailant Stephen Paddock shot himself before police
stormed his hotel room, leaving authorities to question why he committed
the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. TWITTER/@MORGANDBAMBI via REUTERS
who co-founded Kronos Advisory and regularly counsels federal
lawmakers on security issues, said not only would this be a blow to the
intelligence community’s efforts to prevent the jihadis from launching
deadly attacks in the West, but it would also bolster the embattled
group’s appeal at a time when it’s quickly losing ground in Iraq and
Despite its territorial losses, ISIS has managed to
maintain its public image through a sophisticated network of supporters
spreading information on various outlets affiliated with the group. One
of its most prominent news agencies, Amaq, shocked experts by taking
credit for Paddock’s rampage last week, despite no clear indications
that the gunman was affiliated with the group nor that he was even
remotely religious, much less an ultraconservative Muslim.
after the attack, the only image available of Paddock featured him
beside a woman and holding what appeared to be shot of liquor, something
forbidden in Islam. An alternative image of Paddock shows him with his
brother, who said he was “completely dumbfounded” by the bloodshed.
which went so far as to dub Paddock “Abu Abdul Barr al-Amriki,” doubled
down on its claims on Thursday by dedicating an infographic in its
weekly digital magazine al-Naba to the killings. The image
mostly repeated details of the attack already published by the media,
but specified that Paddock had “converted to Islam six months ago.”
Las Vegas’ Sheriff Joe Lombardo told reporters Monday that police “have
no intelligence or evidence the suspect was linked to any terrorist
groups or radical ideologies,” Smith warns that ISIS’s proven ability to
avoid detection helps it send potential recruits a clear message:
“Intelligence agencies in the West are not actually omniscient.”
Stephen Paddock, 64, the gunman who attacked the Route 91 Harvest music
festival in a mass shooting in Las Vegas, is seen in an undated social
media photo obtained by Reuters on October 3, 2017. Investigations into
Paddock’s background have revealed he was a frequent gambler whose
father was once on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, but no apparent
connections to any radical ideology. Social media/Handout via REUTERS
reality of this message has been demonstrated more than once before,
with deadly consequences. Months prior to the series of
ISIS-orchestrated gun and bomb attacks that killed 130 people in
November 2015 in Paris, the 27-year-old “mastermind,” Abdelhamid
Abaaoud, bragged about evading arrest, despite traveling as a known
affiliate of the group, during an interview with ISIS magazine Dabiq.
dual van-ramming and stabbing attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain,
that killed 16, the CIA had reportedly warned Spanish authorities of an
ISIS-related threat specifically on Barcelona’s popular Las Ramblas,
where 15 people were killed. Elsewhere in Europe, Moroccan-born Youssef
Zaghba, one of the men behind June’s deadly vehicular ramming and
stabbing attacks that killed 8 people in London, told authorities, “I’m going to be a terrorist” after being stopped in an Italian airport.
Failures such as these, coupled with a “near historic low”
level of trust in government among U.S. citizens, have been at least
partially responsible for the climate of fear and mistrust that have
caused anti-government, often far-right-leaning conspiracies to dwell.
One such theory, advanced by radio show host Alex Jones of “pizzagate” shooting fame, claims Paddock was driven to kill by the left-wing movement Antifa. Despite
authorities’ assertion that there was no ISIS element involved in the
attacks, President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday he had “no idea” if ISIS played a role.