While it’s certainly not impossible, there’s good reason to be skeptical of the evidence-free claim from the ISIS-linked Aamaq news agency that Stephen Craig Paddock, who carried out Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, was “a soldier” of the Islamic State. If the 64-year-old Nevada man had converted to Islam recently, as ISIS claims, no one else seems to have noticed, and Paddock doesn’t seem to have voiced any support for jihadi causes or made any sort of pro-ISIS statement prior to or during his attack.
It would be unusual, however, for ISIS to totally make this up. There’s a false stereotype that ISIS and other jihadi groups simply claim credit for any attack that happens. In fact, ISIS and Aamaq are fairly reliable about this: Constantly making claims that are easily disproven could undermine the group’s credibility with its supporters around the world, and they very rarely claim credit for attacks the group had nothing to do with. Often attackers don’t have direct connections to the group, as was the case with the perpetrators of the San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida, mass shootings, but there’s usually enough of an online record to suggest that they were acting in ISIS’s name.
But that might be changing. Terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank suggests in a Twitter thread Monday that ISIS’s claims seem to be getting less reliable. The group claimed credit for a June attack that killed 37 people at a casino in Manila, Philippines, which appears to have actually been a botched robbery by an indebted gambler. ISIS also claimed, after a British Airways flight at Charles de Gaulle Airport was evacuated last month, that it had planted bombs there. There were no bombs, and the evacuation was due to an unrelated incident.
As the territory in Iraq and Syria controlled by ISIS continues to dwindle, there’s been heavy speculation that it will refocus its efforts on terrorist attacks against targets outside the Middle East. As its aims shift, it may also be getting a bit sloppier.