Islamic State group quick to claim global attacks as it fights to survive
BEIRUT— Just hours after Stephen Paddock unleashed a hail of bullets on a country music festival in Las Vegas, the Islamic State group issued a flurry of statements claiming the 64- year- old gunman as one of its own.
The quick responsibility claim— discounted by FBI officials — is the latest in a series of dubious or seemingly fake Islamic State claims, reflecting the extremists’ eagerness to latch onto global attacks it can tout as its own as it fights for survival in its Mideast base.
Three years after it declared its so- called Islamic caliphate across huge swaths of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has lost most of the territory and is on the run in its few remaining bastions. Far from the confident propaganda it pumped out when it controlled a pseudo state, the group now justifies its losses to its supporters and urges them not to give up the fight.
“It really reflects the existential crisis facing ISIS,” said London- based Mideast analyst Fawaz Gerges, using an alternate acronym for the group.
Investigators are still looking for clues to explain what drove Paddock, a high- stakes gambler and retired accountant, to gun down 58 people from his high- rise hotel room in the worst mass shooting in modern U. S. history. The Islamic State statement did not provide a shred of evidence to support its claim that he was a “soldier” from its ranks, saying only that the man, who it identified by the alleged pseudonym “Abu el- Bar alAmriki,” had converted to Islam three years ago.
The group has a history of exaggerated, unsub- stantiated or false claims, but these have picked up in frequency as its position at home became more tenuous.
In June, the group claimed an attack by a gunman who ignited a casino fire that left 36 people dead in the Philippine capital, Manila. It turned out to be a botched robbery by a heavily indebted Filipino gambling addict. The group also claimed a knife attack recently that killed two women in Marseille, France, but French authorities say they have found no link between the attacker and the Islamic State.
From Orlando, Fla., to Manchester and London in Britain, to the Champs Elysee in Paris to Bangladesh, Libya, Syria and Yemen — almost every day, the group claims responsibility for an attack somewhere in the world. Many have been at least inspired by the group. Some claims have simply been false.
The recent claims are a far cry from the carnage in Paris in November 2015 that killed 130 people, or the 2016 suicide bombings that ripped through Brussels airport and subway, killing 32 and injuring 320. Both were said to have been planned and directed by the extremist group.
Experts say the recent false claims are a reflection of the group’s desperation to project strength and remain in the news as something other than a terrorist group on the wane.
The militants lost Mosul, their biggest prize and last major stronghold in Iraq, in July after a grueling months- long battle, and are currently holed up in a few remaining neighborhoods in Raqqa, where U. S.- backed Syrian forces are bearing down on them.
In an apparent attempt to raise morale, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr alBaghdadi released an audio message recently, the first since November, vowing to continue fighting and lavishing praise on his jihadis for their valor in the battlefield. He also urged followers to step up attacks and “burn” their enemies everywhere.
Gerges said the Las Vegas attack claim illustrates the extremely difficult position IS faces at home and its lack of strategic coordination.
“To take responsibility for a deranged American, a criminal American, tells you exactly that this is about media narrative. This is about trying to remain in the news cycle, trying to say we are still here,” he said.
Islamic State group militants, seen on a commandeered Iraqi military vehicle in Fallujah, Iraq, have seen their selfproclaimed caliphate wither in three years.