By Daniel L. Byman
The attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed more than 50 people is not only the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, it is more deadly than all the other jihadist attacks on U.S. soil since then combined. But even though shooter Omar Mateen apparently pledged allegiance to ISIS in a last-minute 911 call, the assault is far from a classic ISIS strike, and we should be wary of conflating two very different kinds of events.
Initial reports indicate that Mateen is a lone wolf, inspired by a terrorist group’s ideology but not under its operational control. Recognizing the difference between “ISIS inspired” and “ISIS directed” attacks is vital. ISIS-inspired attacks are more likely to be amateurish, and indeed the jihadist record of attacks in the United States since 9/11 but prior to Orlando is thankfully poor. The horrific nightclub attack shows what a loner with the right weaponry can do, but when ISIS directs an attack, as it did in Paris in 2015, the results are likely to be even bloodier.
In Orlando, as in the December San Bernardino shootings, the attack seemed to mix personal motives with an ISIS brand. Because lone wolves operate on their own, their personal agendas often mix with those of the terrorist group they claim to serve. In San Bernardino, the killers struck at a holiday party in the county health department where one of them worked, not exactly the center of the crusader effort to dominate the Middle East. Initial reports suggest Mateen was homophobic: his father claimed that Mateen became upset when he saw two men kissing. Although ISIS hates gays and its Twitter supporters are already celebrating their deaths, it pretty much hates everyone—Christians, Jews, Westerners in general, Shiite and other Muslim minorities, and Sunni Muslims who don’t agree with it. Homosexuals are not particularly high on this list, and indeed ISIS propaganda in the West has not focused on them heavily.
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