US gunman: 'Lone wolf' or IS backer?

US gunman: 'Lone wolf' or IS backer?

Shooting attacks by independents on behalf of IS and those by trained operatives are starkly different.

Omar Mateen, the gunman who carried out the Orlando shootings, the worst such attack in the US history, was a misfit rather than a militant. Although he phoned 911 and proclaimed he was conducting an operation on behalf of the Islamic State (IS) and the cult claimed him as one of its own, he was not a recognised recruit. Instead, he was a “lone wolf” claiming to be acting in behalf of the Islamic State, holding territory half a world away.

Last year, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a community centre in San Bernardino California by a “lone wolf” couple who had pledged allegiance to the cult without being formal members. Mateen was of Afghan origin, the couple, Sayed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik of Pakistani background.

These attacks must be contrasted with the well organised operations carried out by closely connected teams of Islamic State militants in Paris in November 2015 and Brussels in March 2016. The multiple Paris attacks were carried out by two teams of three radicalised European Union citizens, most of North African origin, who targeted a stadium, cafes, restaurants and a music hall.

The Brussels attacks on the airport and a metro station involved five bombers, four of Moroccan and one of Syrian origin. One or more perpetrators had criminal records, served time in prison, or visited Syria and joined IS which claimed both these operations. Therefore, there is a world of difference between shooting attacks mounted by independents on behalf of Islamic State and trained cult operatives carrying out orders.

Mateen was a disturbed and occasionally violent individual who had attracted the attention of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation which interviewed him on three occasions. On the first, the interview was due to Mateen’s attendance at the same mosque as Moner Mohammed Abu-Salha, a US citizen of Palestinian origin from the same Florida town.


Abu-Salha had carried out a suicide bombing in Syria in 2014 on behalf of al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra. Mateen reportedly expressed admiration for Abu-Salha although Mateen eventually said he had staged the Orlando massacre on behalf of Islamic State, a bitter rival of Nusra.

On two other occasions, Mateen was interviewed after expressing an intention do carry out violent attacks. Mateen seemed to have been motivated by hatred of African-Americans, Jews, Latinos and homosexuals more than his devotion to IS. Indeed, he may well have rung up the police to justify his attack on a nightclub filled with blacks, Hispanics and gays by claiming he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State. This seemed to him to be a more noble cause than racism and homophobia. 
 
Motivation of killers

By contrast, Farook, a shy retiring person, seems to have been radicalised before the creation of IS and before he met equally radical Malik, who had attended an ultra-conservative female seminary in Pakistan. Like Farook and Malik, Mateen had visited Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj or the Umra (the “Little Haj” outside Haj season).

While it is difficult to pin down the motivation of killers like Mateen, Farook and Malik, it is certain they had been subjected to incitement not only online by radical recruiters but also driven by actions of the US and Western governments which interfere and intervene in the affairs of Muslim states, with disastrous results. The states most dramatically affected have been Palestine, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, countries gripped by brutal conflicts.

The constant flow of images from these conflicts on television screens across the globe cannot but cause anger and resentment among Muslims who see women and children killed, homes destroyed, and cities levelled. Incitement is also conducted by Saudi Arabia which exports its narrow and reactionary Wahhabi puritan ideology by building mosques and schools and staffing them with Saudi-trained clerics and teachers.

They promote the notion that the current struggle between the world-wide Muslim community, the Umma, and the West is an extension of the medieval Christian crusades which sought to stamp out Islam and take over the Muslim lands. Today’s focus is on their oil resources.

When seeking motivation for attacks like those carried out by Mateen, Farouk and Malik, US and Western experts dishonestly avoid looking at the devastating policies their governments adopt and examining the Saudi role in radicalisation. 

Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism, the ideology most fundamentalist groups adopt, has, until recently, been dismissed as a key contributor to Muslim anger and alienation. The Saudis have recently come under criticism but no Western politician has called for sanctions to be imposed.

Saudi Arabia possesses 18% of the world’s oil reserves and has huge investments in Western countries. In the wake of the Orlando shootings, however, US Democratic party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at long last, indicated a shift when she said Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia should stop funding radical groups.

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