Analysis - Security Studies

Las Vegas Wolf

Why does “ISIS” Claim Attacks Related to Community Violence?
Thursday، October 05، 2017
Las Vegas Wolf

ISIS was quick to claim responsibility for the Las Vegas attack on 1 October 2017, although various official and unofficial sources denied the possibility of classifying the attack as a terrorist act. In the meantime, most comments focused on the threats to the right of gun ownership, which fuels community violence in the US to an extent that matches, in its impacts, terrorist attacks.

The Las Vegas attack is an example of the mounting threats of gun violence in the US. Law enforcement sources confirmed that Stephen Paddock, 64-year-old, opened fire from a hotel room in the 32nd floor on a crowd of about 22 thousand people, while attending a country music festival opposite the Mandalay Bay Resort, killing 59 people and injuring 500 others. Paddock apparently killed himself after he finished shooting at the crowd, where security forces found him dead in his hotel room.

Multiple Manifestations

Las Vegas attack has several revealing significances, which are as follows: 

1- Large-scale attack: Las Vegas attack is considered the deadliest incident of armed violence in US recent history. It is important to mention other terrorist attacks of similar magnitude. Other similar attacks included the nightclub attack in Orlando by Omar Mateen in June 2016, killed 49 people and injured 50 others, and Fort Hood attack in Texas, on November 5, 2009 by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan that killed 13 people and wounded 32 others.

2- Unknown lone-wolves’ attacks: The attack raises the alarm of increasing attacks conducted by the unknown lone-wolves. The number of attacks in the US, which are carried out by individuals who have no criminal records, are growing. Las Vegas attack is no exception. Preliminary information available about Stephen Paddock indicates that he does not have any criminal record. His brother Eric Paddock said that he was a wealthy properties owner, a gambler and occasionally travelled by cruises, indicating that he did not have any criminal tendencies. In contrast, his father Benjamin Hoskins Paddock spent a period of his life in prison after robbing a bank. 

These data confirm the difficulty of taking preemptive security measures against such attacks, because the perpetrators make their decisions suddenly due to swift shifts towards extremism. Accordingly, the security agencies are unable to note these shifts and move to prevent armed attacks.

3- Spread of community violence: Las Vegas attack is an indication of the growing community violence in the US. An FBI report in September 2017 indicated that the rate of homicides in the country during 2016 rose by 8 percent compared to 2015, bringing the number to 17250 crimes. Also, the geographical scope of such crimes has widened and exacerbated in urban centers, such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Las Vegas.

4- Gun control laws: Armed violence mentioned in the FBI report is linked to a permissive legislative environment that allow the possession of firearms without significant restrictions. Gun laws in Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, are labeled as having the least stringent gun licensing laws, where individuals can carry firearms without the need to register themselves as owners of such weapons.

In the same vein, individuals can sell guns through personal exchanges without formal sales registration, which undermine the process of background checks that is conducted when people buy firearms. In addition, the State of Nevada does not prohibit the possession of automatic and semiautomatic firearms, similar to those found in the hotel room of Stephen Paddock.

ISIS Disinformation

Over the last few years, ISIS has sought to establish what could be described as “ISIS Trademark” through inciting individuals to carry out operations that do not require paying high costs, attacking difficult to predict soft targets. Examples include vehicle-ramming operations in various Western countries, as well as armed attacks with limited number of individuals and terrorist cells. 

Moreover, ISIS transcended propagandizing terrorist acts, carried out by his followers. ISIS, instead, claims responsibility for any armed violence occurring in Western countries, even if not executed by its elements. Through such claims, ISIS aims to revive the image of the group, which is facing an existential threat, due to its military defeats and loss of territories in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS practiced this pattern of disinformation in more than one incident. For example, the organization claimed responsibility for the attacks of Westminster in March 2017, yet the British security investigations indicated that it had no links with the attacks. ISIS also claimed responsibility for the shooting in a casino in Manila in June 2017, and it turned out that the attacker was an alcoholic gambler who was in debt.  

ISIS applied the same approach in the recent attack in Las Vegas, where the group was quick to claim responsibility for the mass shooting through Amaq News Agency, stressing that the attacker is a soldier of the Caliphate, who converted to Islam several months ago.

Nevertheless, this side of the story contains fallacies that undermine its credibility. On the one hand, the information available about Stephen Paddock does not indicate that he belongs to the organization; on the other hand, Paddock’s suicide after the operation is inconsistent with the mentality of ISIS elements. These elements can carry out martyrdom operations in line with their vision, such as blowing up a bomb among a group of people, but cannot commit suicide without simultaneously inflicting casualties on their enemies.

Gun Ownership Threats

In an article titled “A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths”, published in the New York Times in October 2015, Nicholas Kristof stated, “More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history."  Americans are in fact divided over gun ownership into two main camps. One group opposes gun ownership rights based on the growing crimes resulting primarily from gun ownership. In this regard, the Small Arms Survey refers to this problem by illustrating the growing trends of gun ownership within the US.

The report states that “the Americans have about 270 million privately owned firearms out of 650 million worldwide” and the United States is home to approximately 35 to 50 percent of civilian-owned guns in the world. Among the eight million new firearms manufactured annually around the world, the American citizens buy nearly 4.5 million pieces.

In parallel to those who oppose gun ownership rights, there is another camp that approaches the issue from another perspective, which  is legislation-based freedom. To this camp, possession of firearms has a symbolic significance as it relates to self-reliance, as well as core American values such as independence, individual liberty and liberation from the interference of authority. 

This camp bases its standpoint on a set of regulations and pressure groups, like the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), which has a strong political and social presence, enabling it to lobby the government to block any bills that would restrict the freedom of owning firearms, as well as campaigning and lobbying to enact laws that expand the rights of gun ownership.

In conclusion, Las Vegas attack is related to the polarization and sharp division in the American society over the threats posed by gun ownership and the mounting pressures on the US administration to restrict small arms trading on one hand. On the other side, there are those who advocate expanding gun ownership for personal protection against individual attacks and pressure groups, such as NRA, which advocates the constitutional right of individuals to protect their personal security.

Keywords: TerrorismISISUSExtremismAttackLas VegasCommunity ViolenceGun ViolenceClaimWar on Terror