What is Behind the Orlando Shooting?

Briefing Note

What is Behind the Orlando Shooting?

14 Jun 2016

The murder of 49 people at an LGBT nightclub by a gunman claiming allegiance to ISIS reinforces the danger of the group's appeal to lone attackers. 

The murder of 49 people at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida, immediately brought speculation that the shooter had Islamist links. This appears to be confirmed by an NBC News report that the killer, Omar Mateen, who was killed by police after taking hostages, made a call to emergency services before the attack in which he pledged allegiance to the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.

ISIS, meanwhile, claimed via its Amaq news agency that the attack “was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.” Nevertheless, the lack of detail in the statement suggests that the group did not have prior knowledge of the killer’s plans.

ISIS has repeatedly called for attacks on the West, condemning its perceived moral corruption. A 2015 issue of Dabiq, the group’s English language propaganda magazine, talked of the “strangeness” of a Muslim in the West “amongst fornicators and sodomites,” amid the “obligation of jihad.” Another attacked refugees from Syria on the grounds that “if one’s children and grandchildren don’t fall into kufr [disbelief], they are under the constant threat of fornication, sodomy, drugs, and alcohol.”

The group’s actions also speak of this focus: those accused of homosexuality in the territory it controls are frequently subject to gruesome punishments including being thrown from buildings

More generally, in the past year ISIS began to focus on incitement to its supporters to conduct attacks at home if they could not make their way to its so-called ‘caliphate.’ Two men associated those who carried out November’s Paris attacks, who were killed by Belgian police in January 2015, were featured in Dabiq calling on Muslims to “go forth for jihad, wherever you may be.”

It is not yet known whether Mateen had any firm connections to ISIS, or was merely a sympathiser. But the choice of target, and the pledge of allegiance to ISIS that accompanied the attack, shows the danger that the ISIS ideology, expressed through its propaganda, poses to the West, as well as to those closer to the territory it controls in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.

This page will be updated with further developments.