To defeat Islamist terrorism, we have to first understand how the twisted ideology is spread
Until we grasp what motivates killers like the one in Orlando, preventing future attacks will continue to be difficult.
Determining whether Islamic State (IS) had a direct role in the deadliest shooting in US history is the priority of American investigators. They want to know whether killer Omar Mateen had accomplices, if he was part of a terrorist network and if more such attacks are planned. But there is a chance that such links will not be found, as has been the case with a number of previous atrocities. The reason is that the extremist Islamist group is for many radicals beyond its bases in Syria and Iraq about inspiration rather than practical support.
Mateen did not need the help of IS to make plans or buy the weapons for the attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando. The state of Florida’s relatively lax gun laws and the licence he held as a security guard allowed him to obtain a semi-automatic rifle and pistol. He had often gone to the entertainment venue, so knew its layout and the times it would be busy. Thus armed and with a soft target chosen, all that was needed for the killing spree was transport and time to shoot.
Trawling through Mateen’s computer and internet browsing history may reveal clues. IS websites could have been looked at or contact made with radicals. But there is also a possibility that nothing of the sort is revealed. Media reports last month carried a message from IS calling on supporters, particularly in Europe and the US, to make the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a time of “calamity for non-believers”.
Those sympathetic to IS’ distorted perception of Islam can easily be swayed by such rhetoric. That is all that is needed to motivate people filled with hatred, as the killer would seem to have been towards gays. The same reasoning was behind the shooting dead of 14 people in San Bernardino last December by a Muslim man and his wife; the man had targeted work colleagues. IS was quick to claim responsibility for both attacks.
The group’s ideology has gone global. Intelligence and security do not guarantee attacks can be thwarted, as those during the last Ramadan in Kuwait City, Paris in November and Brussels in April prove. Constantly strengthening the way intelligence agencies and police work and boosting cross-border cooperation will help save lives. But until authorities understand how extremists motivate individuals to channel their anger towards attaining goals and can identify such people before they strike, preventing attacks will continue to be difficult.