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New York Times Reporter: False Claims Could Signal ISIS' Fractured State


As we reported yesterday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday night, but the FBI rejected that claim. Authorities say the shooter, Stephen Paddock, acted alone and has no ties to international terror groups. Authorities are still learning more about him. But in the meantime, we wanted to know why ISIS would make such a claim if it is not true. To answer that question we have Rukmini Callimachi, who covers ISIS and al-Qaida for The New York Times. Welcome to the show.

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Thank you for having me.

MCEVERS: So first, just tell us, what did the Amaq News Agency - that's the ISIS news outlet - actually say about the Vegas attack?

CALLIMACHI: They called the shooter a soldier of the Islamic State, which is their typical lingo for anybody who carries out an act in their name. And they said that he was responding to calls to target the coalition. It suggests that it's an inspired attack as opposed to one that is directed by the group from Iraq or Syria.

MCEVERS: Did they have any evidence to support the claim?

CALLIMACHI: No. But the thing to keep in mind is contrary to public perception, ISIS has now made dozens and dozens of such claims in the West and the majority of them have turned out to be true.

MCEVERS: Have there been any instances when they've made a claim like this and it's turned out to be false?

CALLIMACHI: There have been a couple. Specifically in the last six months, I'd say, there have been two. One was a few weeks ago. It was a claim that they had placed a bomb at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. It turned out to be false. And the second one was a claim for an attack at a casino in Manila in the Philippines which was earlier in the summer. Both of those have turned out to not be true.

MCEVERS: So why then would ISIS make such a false claim?

CALLIMACHI: We don't know for sure. What's clear in their messaging is ISIS is really bearing down on this claim on Las Vegas. They didn't just make it on the Amaq News Agency. They then made it on Nashir, which is one of their official channels. They put out a celebratory video that showed clips from the press conference that followed the carnage in Las Vegas. So they're really hyping it as if this is them. And that's where many of the analysts and people like myself who are studying this group are somewhat confused. It's unlike them to insist to this extent on something that they are not linked to. And yet up to now everything points to this not being an ISIS attack.

MCEVERS: Right. And let's talk about why everything points to this not being an ISIS attack, right? I mean, this man, Stephen Paddock, he was 64 years old. I mean, he's not your typical ISIS soldier, right?

CALLIMACHI: Right. When I woke up yesterday morning and I saw that ISIS had claimed it I, you know, assumed that this was going to be a younger man who had a history of radicalization. As soon as I learned that he was 64, white male, basically a retiree, my own sense of skepticism went up. If this man turns out to have done this on behalf of ISIS, he would literally be the oldest ISIS recruit in America by nearly a decade.

MCEVERS: If this turns out to not be an ISIS-related attack in any way, does that signal something about ISIS, that this is a group that's desperate?

CALLIMACHI: I think it would, you know, blow a very big hole in their credibility with people like me, people that have been watching them carefully for years now...

MCEVERS: Right, with their own supporters, not just with people like you and other terrorism watchers.

CALLIMACHI: This is the interesting part. So already you can see on their channels - I saw it last night and early this morning - they're trying to paint the pushback from the FBI as the American government leading a cover-up and the media is complicit in that.

But that said, the cracks are also starting to show because last night I was - shared a chat between several ISIS members. And one ISIS follower went into the chat room and very earnestly, you know, just said to them, is there any proof that this guy was, you know, a soldier of the Islamic State? How can we be sure? And the moderator of that chat room snaps back. And he said, well, if you don't believe the Muslims, then you might as well go and try to open his heart yourself.

MCEVERS: Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times, thank you very much.

CALLIMACHI: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.