Was Omar Mateen a “soldier of Islam”?

As we continue to get more information on the terrorist who killed 50 people and injured as many more in Orlando yesterday we find ourselves yet again in the murky world of “Why?”  Why would someone kill dozens of innocent civilians?  Why was he not being followed?  Why was he able to get a gun given what the FBI knew about him?  Why didn’t others report his behaviour to authorities?  Why are we incapable of getting beyond prayers for the victims and implementing real action that has a chance of preventing future tragedies?

In all this maelstrom of information the inevitable has happened: a terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack and Mr. Mateen as one of their own – Islamic State.  Fueling this news is the fact that Mr. Mateen called 911 during his siege and pledged allegiance to the group (NB allegiance – bay’a – is not pledged to an organisation but to a person, showing that Mr. Mateen was not quite up on terrorist etiquette).  Ergo he was IS.

Not so fast.  Saying you are something does not mean you are.  Anyone can pledge allegiance to anything whether or not that person has any real links, ties, relationship or communications with that group. Nothing to date suggests that Mr. Mateen had any of the above.  He appears, so far, to be a young man inspired by the violent ideology promulgated by IS and others.  Note that this does NOT mean he was self-radicalised, that meaningless term which has already been thrown about in this case.  He was radicalised through the influence of others.  Who those mentors were is impossible to say at this point although there are interesting allegations that his father was a supporter of the Taliban.  If this turns out to be true it will support the hypothesis that part of his radicalisation to violence process started at home (it happens more often than you might think).  We will learn more, undoubtedly, and yet we may never figure out all the twists and turns of this man’s path to violence.

But back to Islamic State.  The terrorist group has praised Mr. Mateen’s actions and called him a “soldier of Islam”.  IS is quick to take advantage of terrorist acts carried out in its name and its leadership regularly calls on Muslims to engage in “Nike terrorism” – just do it.  No surprise there.

Regardless of what IS says however, Omar Mateen is NOT a soldier of Islam.  He is a terrorist, and a dead one at that.  Islam does not condone the slaughter of innocents.  Islam does not throw homosexuals off buildings.  Islam does not rape children and take them as wives.  Islam does not treat non-Muslims as enemies.

IS revels in seeing itself as an army fighting for the true spirit of Islam and in defence of the faith. It sees its members as foot soldiers willing to sacrifice their own lives in aid of a divine cause.  Truth be told, this version of Islam has very little to do with, or support from, one and half billion believers.  To think otherwise is to show ignorance of Islam.

Where do we go from here?  We need to continue to hunt down members of IS and neutralise them (yes, this means killing some).  We need to be vigilant of those who claim they want to come home after having fought with the group in Syria.  We need to ensure that our agencies have the legislative tools and personnel to do their jobs. We need to work with Muslim communities and adherents not only to help identify those on the path to violence but to dispel the myth that all Canadian Muslims are our enemies, but rather part of our fabric.  And we need to stop giving IS the credit it seeks and the attention it craves.  IS does not represent Islam and its members are terrorists, not soldiers.  IS is not an army, it is an abomination.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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