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Don’t rush to infer motivations, some warned after Omar Mateen’s attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in Sunday’s early hours. We simply don’t know, certainly in the first 24 hours, why a disturbed individual would choose to go on a terrible killing spree. Who knows what abnormalities are at work in such a person’s mind? Even if they say Napoleon or Space Commander Alpha sent them, we can hardly take their word for it.
To be sure, certain clues might have seemed vital. For example, not only had Mateen vowed allegiance to Islamic State in a 911 call during his attack (and also on Facebook, it later turned out), but IS itself within hours accepted his vow and welcomed his actions via a news agency, quite a bit faster than it acknowledged the allegiance of and praised the husband-and-wife attackers in San Bernardino last year. In fact, as New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi pointed out, Mateen, like the San Bernardino attackers and the attackers at a Garland, TX, cartoon exhibition (and like a number of attackers in Europe) had followed closely a protocol laid out by IS itself for announcing loyalty contemporaneously with an independently carried out act of violence.
Some of the wait-and-see commentators seem to regard news developments in the days since then as having vindicated their position. For example, no evidence has emerged that Mateen coordinated his attack in advance with any IS leadership. The problem here is that, as Callimachi points out, IS’s own recommendations for attacks on the West emphasize exactly the avoidance of such pre-coordination, which would give investigators more trails to follow leading to IS actors. Mateen had also followed other steps typical of IS recommendations, including taking hostages in a closed space, which increases the chance of a drawn-out siege (good for media interest) ending in the death of the attacker (who therefore cannot be debriefed for intelligence.)