ISIS' new statement on the Orlando terror attack indicates a 'key element' of its strategy

The terrorist group ISIS on Monday released a second statement on the terror attack in Orlando, providing a more detailed account of the massacre carried out by a 29-year-old US citizen armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle.

ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) claimed credit for the attack Sunday afternoon. The gunman, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call during the shooting, FBI Director James Comey said.

Mateen killed 49 people at an LGBTQ nightclub in the massacre.

The first statement from ISIS’ propaganda channels was brief. The ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency attributed Mateen’s ISIS link to a “source,” and the statement did not describe or provide any details about the attack.

But the second statement, released in an official broadcast on the group’s Al Bayan Radio on Monday, was slightly more in-depth.

“One of the caliphate’s soldiers in America carried out a security invasion where he was able to enter a crusader gathering at a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando, Florida … where he killed and injured more than a hundred of them before he was killed,” the group said in its broadcast, according to Reuters.

“It is not completely unusual for ISIS to release an expanded version of an al-[Amaq] statement,” Michael Horowitz, a geopolitical and security analyst at the Levantine Group, a Middle East-based risk-consultancy organisation, told Business Insider in an email.

He added:

While it is an open secret that al-Amaq is linked to ISIS, it still attempts to present itself as a neutral ‘news source.’ This means that al-Amaq often use a softer language than the one found in ISIS official statements, hence the need for a new statement.

Still, the fact that even the second statement doesn’t allude to any inside knowledge of the attacks suggests that the shooting might have been inspired by ISIS rather than directly ordered by the terror group.

“The information in the Al Bayan thing is, I mean, there’s nothing new in it,” Charlie Winter, an expert on jihadist propaganda and a senior research associate at Georgia State University’s Transcultural and Violence Initiative, told Business Insider.

“It compounds my suspicions that it was not connected to the organisation itself, but was carried out in its name,” he added.

FBI Director James Comey said Monday that Mateen mentioned links to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State — all within a three-year span. But Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counterterrorism analyst and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told Business Insider that it’s not all that unusual for a jihadist at Mateen’s level to have conflicting sympathies for different terror groups.

Winter noted that if the shooting was inspired rather than carried out on direct orders from ISIS leadership, “it does change somewhat the implications of the attack.”

Other experts have agreed.

Michael Vickers, a former US undersecretary of defence for intelligence, said on an Atlantic Council conference call Monday that the Orlando shooting “certainly looks far more like an inspired attack.”

“This is a key element of ISIL’s strategy,” Vickers said.

Rukmini Callimachi pointed out the implications of the strategy in The New York Times on Monday.

“Influencing distant attackers to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and then carry out mass murder has become a core part of the group’s propaganda over the past two years,” Callimachi wrote.

“It is a purposeful blurring of the line between operations that are planned and carried out by the terror group’s core fighters and those carried out by its sympathizers,” she added.

Even if Mateen wasn’t acting on direct orders from ISIS leadership, he might have been in contact with some ISIS members. And it’s likely that, at the very least, he was familiar with the group’s ideology and messaging.

“The fact that Mateen swore allegiance to ISIS on the phone suggest both that he did know the codes of ISIS-inspired attacks, and that he wasn’t an ISIS member in the same way that the Paris attackers for instance were,” Horowitz said.

“It suggests that Mateen may have been in contact with ISIS members, possibly during his radicalization, and even during the planning of the attack.”

Several terrorists who carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks, in contrast, had trained in Syria and were in contact with high-level ISIS leaders. They travelled back to Europe with the express purpose of forming a terror cell to carry out attacks on Western European countries.

And ISIS’ statement after the Paris attack, which left 130 people dead in a series of bombings and shooting across the city, was much more extensive.

The terror group also rolled out a social-media campaign after both the Paris and Brussels attacks, with ISIS’ online channels encouraging supporters to blast out canned messages on their social-media accounts. Channels on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which ISIS uses to send out information to supporters, asked followers to post canned messages celebrating the attacks and threatening more violence.

With the Orlando attack, there was no similar campaign.

Recently, ISIS has ramped up calls for attacks from supporters in Western countries.

Horowitz noted Sunday that these messages could be effective as calls to action for radicalized people.

“These messages by ISIS’s leadership are meant to maximise the psychological impact of these attacks among the Western public,” he said.

He added: “They create the perception that ISIS does control these attacks from within the ‘safety’ of its Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. In general, however, ISIS has little control over these radicalized individuals, other than pushing them to act within a specific timeframe.”

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