By Brigitte L. Nacos
Terrorism experts have long recognized that the next terrorist act in the United States was a question of when, not whether it would happen. To the counterterrorism community it did not come as a surprise that another lone wolf or lone actor, presumably infected by violent online extremist propaganda, struck last weekend in the most horrific way killing 49 persons and injuring several dozens.
Donald Trump’s post-Orlando claim that he was right in predicting more terrorism within our borders is childish--at best.
What, then, was the most deadly mass shooting in this country ever and the most lethal terrorism strike within U.S. borders since the catastrophic 9/11 attack?
In my view, the attack in Florida was an act of terrorism perpetrated by a self-declared jihadist who most likely believed that he killed in the name of ISIS and his religion.
While it is wrong to blame Islam and cast suspicion over all Muslims here and abroad, it is also wrong not to recognize a powerful strain within Islam, in more recent times especially espoused by Wahhabism, as potent fuel for terrorism against non-believers in their violent religious fanaticism.
Young Muslims in the Western diaspora, especially those with problems, such as social isolation, mental health issues, and criminal records, are particularly susceptible to jihadists’ hate propaganda.
European researchers found that among would-be foreign fighters, first for Al Qaeda and then for ISIS, mental health problems, past criminal activity, and societal alienation were more prevalent than in the general population.
According to the FBI, the Orlando killer did not have a criminal record. But his former wife and a former co-worker noted his bi-polar and instable personality, his hate toward others, his violent words and, in the case of his former wife, his violence.
While we do not yet know about Omar Mateen’s activities on social media, perhaps on the dark web, we do know that he was clueless with respect to the leading Islamist terrorist organizations; otherwise he wouldn’t have claimed at different times his admiration for Hezbollah, a Shia group, and ISIS, a Sunni organization—two deadly enemies.
That the Islamic State now celebrates Mateen as a soldier of the Caliphate does not mean a direct link between ISIS and terrorist Mateen. But to the extent to which he embraced ISIS-style jihadism and the so-called Islamic State’s repeated calls for Muslims to attack in their Western environment, ISIS propaganda may well played a role in the Orlando shooting.