While U.S. investigators are still trying to determine if there were any actual links between the Orlando shooter, 29-year-old American-born Omar Mateen, and the Islamic State terror group, Islamic State supporters moved quickly to claim responsibility.
The Amaq News Agency, essentially a propaganda arm of IS, issued statements both in Arabic and English Sunday. The English language statement said the nightclub attack was “carried out by an Islamic State fighter,” and it claimed more than 100 homosexuals had been killed.
“That’s a legitimate claim,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“But that doesn’t mean that Mateen was directed or acting under the orders of the Islamic State,” he said. “It could be that Amaq is just playing off news reports that say Mateen swore allegiance to Islamic State either before or during the attack.”
Suspected Orlando shooter Omar Mateen. (Orlando Police Department)
Still, experts worry this is the type of attention that IS craves, especially given the growing string of setbacks the terror group and self-proclaimed caliphate has been suffering on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, as well as in Libya.
“From their perspective, it doesn’t matter if he (Mateen) was acting under the orders of Islamic State or not,” Joscelyn said. “It’s a big PR win to have one of their supporters do it.”
Early indications are that the Orlando nightclub attack may have, at least briefly, reenergized IS followers on social media.
“IS English language supporters on Twitter attempting a comeback,” terror expert and author J.M. Berger posted on his @intelwire Twitter account Sunday, adding “one account tweeting 130+ per hour.”