IS claims responsibility for Las Vegas shooting, US officials sceptical

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At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured during the shooting at a Las Vegas country music festival on Sunday

Rescue personnel gather after mass shooting at Las Vegas country music festival nearby on 1 October (AFP)
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Tuesday 3 October 2017 4:24 UTC
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The Islamic State group on Monday claimed responsibility for a shooting attack that left at least 59 people dead and more than 500 injured at a Las Vegas country music festival on Sunday.

Some 22,000 people were in the crowd when a man police identified as Stephen Paddock opened fire, sparking a panic in which some people trampled on others, as law enforcement officers scrambled to locate the gunman.

A statement published by IS's Amaq propaganda agency claimed the attacker was a "soldier of the Islamic State".

"The Las Vegas attacker is a soldier of the Islamic State in response to calls to target coalition countries," it said.

In a second statement, IS claimed the gunman "converted to Islam several months ago".

We have no idea what his belief system was

- Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo

Federal officials said there was no evidence to link Paddock to militant organisations.

"We have determined to this point no connection with an international terrorist group," Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) field office in Las Vegas, told reporters.

Speaking on Monday after the claim by IS, US President Donald Trump described the attack as "an act of pure evil" and refrained from labelling the incident a "terrorist attack". 

Trump used his remarks to also praise the emergency services and the speed by which the Las Vegas police were able to locate the shooter. 

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that the day after the shooting is not the time to renew the debate over gun control.

Sanders said during a press briefing that there is a "time and place" for a debate but that is "not the place we're in at this moment."

She said Trump was focused on the victims and stressed that it was a "time to unite the country." Trump made no mention of US gun violence during his earlier remarks.

IS has claimed responsibility for many attacks in nations which are part of the coalition conducting air strikes and supporting an offensive against it in Syria and Iraq since 2014, including the US, France, Germany, the UK and Spain. 

Previous attacks claimed by IS in the US include mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, in which 15 people were killed, and at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016 in which 49 people were killed.

However, investigators in both of those cases raised doubts that either attack was explicitly ordered or coordinated by IS.

After the San Bernardino attack, IS described the perpetrators as "supporters", rather than as "soldiers", the term it typically uses to describe those involved in attacks.

The CIA also said following the Orlando attack that it had not found any evidence that the gunmen had been in contact with IS. 

IS's claim of responsibility comes following months of territorial reverses in Syria and Iraq where it has lost control of its former major urban strongholds of Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, formerly the Syrian "capital" of its self-styled caliphate. 

Last week, IS's media wing released audio which it said was a speech by the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in which he praised militants killed in the battle to retake Mosul and other former IS territories and urged followers to "intensify one attack after another against the infidels".

Security officials and experts have long warned that IS will seek to maintain momentum and legitimacy through terror as its so-called "caliphate" dwindles in Iraq and Syria.

Shocked concertgoers, some with blood on their clothes, wandered the streets afterwards.

Police said they had no information about Paddock’s motive, and that he had no criminal record and was not believed to be connected to any militant group. Paddock killed himself before police entered the hotel room he was firing from, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.

“We have no idea what his belief system was,” Lombardo said.

“We believe the individual killed himself prior to our entry,” Lombardo told a news conference.

Earlier reports indicated Paddock had been shot by police.

Lombardo said there were more than 10 rifles in the room where Paddock killed himself after checking into the hotel on Thursday. Paddock was not known to law enforcement, Lombardo said.

The dead included one off-duty police officer, Lombardo said. Two on-duty officers were injured, including one who was in stable condition after surgery and one who sustained minor injuries, Lombardo said. Police warned the death toll may rise.

Pervasiveness of guns

The United States has witnessed numerous mass shootings that had no connection to IS or that had any other religious or political motivation.

Some of the most deadly include a shooting by a 23-year-old student of Korean origin who went on a rampage at Virginia Tech University in the town of Blacksburg in April 2007, who killed 27 students and five teachers before committing suicide; a disturbed 20-year-old man who killed his mother in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 before blasting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shooting dead 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adults before committing suicide; and in October 1991 a man who shot to death 22 people in a restaurant in the town of Killeen, Texas and then killed himself.

According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a group that tracks gun violence in the United States, a total of 273 mass shooting incidents have occurred so far this year, as of 2 October. The group describes a mass shooting as four or more individuals being shot or killed in the same general time and location.

Despite an outcry among some lawmakers about the pervasiveness of guns in the United States, the Las Vegas massacre, like previous mass shootings, is unlikely to prompt action in Congress.

Nevada has some of the most permissive gun laws in the United States. It does not require firearm owners to obtain licenses or register their guns.

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms, and gun-rights advocates staunchly defend that provision. Trump, a Republican, has been outspoken about his support of the Second Amendment.