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Middle East Issues





NPR Minimizes Orlando Terrorist's Pledge to ISIS


National Public Radio (NPR) coverage of the June 11, 2016 terror attack in Orlando, Florida—in which 49 people were murdered and 53 wounded at a gay nightclub called Pulse—downplayed perpetrator Omar Mateen's self-professed Islamist motivations.

Newsbusters, an online project of the Washington D.C.-based non-profit Media Research Center, noted that a June 18, 2016 National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast for “Weekend Edition” minimized or omitted Mateen's history that indicated Islamist sympathies.

Mateen pledged bay'ah (allegiance) to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a U.S.-designated terrorist group, in a phone call to a 911 operator during the attack. He reiterated this vow on the Facebook social media network.

Mateen's commitment may not have been incidental: The Daily Beast, an online publication, noted that “ISIS recently called on Muslims across the world to attack targets in the West during the holy month of Ramadan, which began last week (“Omar Mateen, Terrorist Who Attacked Orlando Gay Club, Had Been Investigated by FBI,” June 12, 2016).”

The Daily Beast said that Mateen previously had been investigated by the FBI for expressing support for Hezbollah, ISIS and al-Qaeda. All three are U.S.-designated terrorist groups, although Hezbollah is a Lebanese-based, Shi'ite Muslim organization and both ISIS and al-Qaeda are of the rival Sunni branch of Islam. Although the three are often competitors and enemies, they share a similar totalitarian Islamist ideology. That Mateen's interest in joining an Islamic terrorist organization was not group—or even sect—specific may indicate a lack of familiarity with the differences between them or of formal connection. It does not contradict a possible general inclination toward them, however.
 
A couple of indications...

Mateen's father, an Afghan immigrant living in Florida, has lauded the Taliban publically. The Taliban is a U.S.-designated terrorist movement that is responsible for attacking U.S. soldiers and cooperating with al-Qaeda, and for hosting al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden when it ruled Afghanistan.

Yet, Mateen's history in this regard was omitted by “Weekend Edition.” Host Simon suggested that authorities were “exploring whether Mateen invoked ISIS's name not because he follows that group, but perhaps in hopes of getting more publicity for his attacks.” NPR did not say what additional publicity would be needed for a shooting that left more than 100 dead and wounded.

NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston said unnamed “intelligence officials and investigators” were “increasingly convinced that the motive for this attack had very little or maybe even nothing to do with ISIS. Al-Qaida-and ISIS-inspired attacks—typically they follow a very different pattern than what we've seen in this case.” Temple-Raston added that authorities:

…say they've yet to find any indication that he became more religious, which is one of the indicators of radicalization. He still was going to the same mosque. The way he dressed didn't change. His relationships with his family hadn't changed in any way [emphases added]. And these are all typically warning signs that parents and friends and educators are told to look for if they're worried someone they're close to is radicalizing.”

Temple-Ralston noted that Mateen had a history of behavioral and unemployment problems, suggesting a profile that is more in line with “typical mass shooters,” and implicitly not those of terrorists. This is a false distinction: terrorists, by definition have behavioral problems. Some may have employment problems or social difficulties—circumstances they might feel could be rectified by joining a terrorist organization.

Given the senior Mateen's affinity for the Taliban, it perhaps wouldn't be surprising if the son's relationship with his father hadn't changed.
 
About that pledge of allegiance

Moreover, contrary to NPR's assertion, pledging bay'ah suggests becoming more religious—at least as ISIS defines the term. As Thomas Joscelyn, a terrorism analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank in Washington D.C. said:

“This is exactly what Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's [the head of ISIS] so-called caliphate tells people to do before they die as a ‘martyr' or otherwise.

“The Islamic State regularly warns believers that they shouldn't die in a state of disobedience. They can avoid the fires of hell by pledging bay'ah to Baghdadi's enterprise, the group's propagandists frequently claim. For instance, the 12th issue of the Islamic State's English-language magazine, Dabiq, includes this passage attributed to the Prophet Mohammed: ‘Whoever withdraws his hand from obedience will meet Allah on Resurrection Day without having any excuse. And whoever dies without having a bay'ah binding him, dies a death of jahiliyyah [state of ignorance].'”

Joscelyn contravened NPR's claim that ISIS and al-Qaeda attacks “follow a very different pattern.” He noted that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who perpetrated the Dec. 2, 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack in which 14 people were murdered, pledged bay'ah to ISIS during the assault.

Nor is Mateen's seemingly informal method of pledging allegiance unusual. Terrorism analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi has documented how, shortly after the emergence of ISIS in mid-2013, images of anonymous individuals pledging bay'ah—in various parts of the world—appeared. Some of these images, were as simple as an outstretched hand holding a paper with an inscribed pledge of support. (“Bay'ah to Baghdadi: Foreign [Ideological] Support for Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham,” Middle East Forum, Aug. 22, 2013).
 
Terror apologists make poor counterterrorism sources

NPR was not the only news media outlet to downplay Mateen's Islamist tendencies.

Salon magazine's Ben Norton (“Orlando shooter supported conflicting Islamist groups that are fighting each other, FBI says,” June 13, 2016) omitted Mateen's pledge of allegiance and said that the terrorist's interest in sometime rival terrorist groups “call into question whether he really knew what he was supporting.” Or perhaps, as noted above, they illustrate an affinity for or inspiration by Islamic terror, regardless of brand. Norton—whose anti-Israel activism CAMERA has documented (see, for example, “The Selective Skepticism of Salon's Ben Norton,” Feb. 23, 2016)—failed to mention that Mateen's father supported the Taliban.

Instead of using a counterterrorist expert as a source, Norton cited Ali Abunimah, a terrorist apologist who he misleadingly identified as a journalist. As CAMERA has noted (see here for examples), Abunimah founded the anti-Israel Web site Electronic Intifada, which among other things, traffics in conspiracy theories and fake quotes. Abunimah has called for a third intifada (uprising) against the Jewish state. The second intifada (2000-2005) consisted of Palestinian terrorist attacks in which more than 1,000 Israeli and foreign visitors died, and Israeli counter-attacks that killed more than 2,000 Palestinian Arabs. Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury Department and FBI terror analyst, has noted that some of the second intifada terrorist attacks involved rival terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, cooperating in both the planning and implementation of their operations (Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, Yale University Press, 2006).

Short-term competition and power struggles do not necessarily trump long-term strategic objectives. For Islamists of any stripe, the latter includes the undermining and ultimate destruction of Western civilization. Yet, instead of listening to the terrorists themselves, as in these examples from NPR and Salon, some news outlets seem disposed to minimize a threat, the objective of which can be as clear as a recorded confession on a 911 telephone call.


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