Chris Wattie / Reuters A woman places a candle in front of one of many white crosses set up for the victims of the Route 91 Harvest music festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, October 6, 2017.

Was ISIS Responsible for the Las Vegas Attack?

Why a False Claim Seems at Odds With the Group's Strategy

Since declaring its so-called caliphate in the summer of 2014, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has claimed responsibility for more than a dozen attacks in the West. Seven of them have occurred in the United States—most recently in Las Vegas. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old American whose religious interests remain a mystery, converted a luxury hotel room into a sniper’s perch and took aim at concert-goers gathered beneath his window, killing nearly 60 people and wounding hundreds more. Shortly after, via its Amaq “news service,” ISIS asserted that Paddock was a “soldier of the Islamic State who carried out the attack in response to calls for targeting coalition countries.” In a separate Amaq report, ISIS explained, Paddock “converted to Islam months before the attack.” Soon after, the group issued an official statement, in which it claimed that the shooting was in response to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s call for attacks “targeting the crusader alliance” and that “after careful monitoring of the Crusader gatherings in the city of Las Vegas,” Paddock, whom ISIS identified using the kunya (or honorific title) “Abu Abd El Bar,” killed and wounded 600 people before becoming a “martyr.” 

There has been some doubt, however, as to the veracity of the group’s claim, given that Paddock did not provide evidence demonstrating his connection to ISIS. ISIS’ propaganda instructs those who carry out attacks in the West to explicitly link themselves to the group. “Otherwise,” as propagandists wrote in the October 2014 issue of ISIS’ flagship publication, Dabiq, “crusader media makes such attacks appear to be random killings.” Such pledges have come in various forms. Omar Mateen, who carried out the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June 2016, claimed responsibility and pledged allegiance to ISIS via a 911 call. Attackers in Europe produced video declarations of loyalty to Baghdadi, which were eventually published by Amaq. The two gunmen who opened fire in 2015 outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon drawing contest in Garland, Texas sent a tweet containing

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