MINNEAPOLIS — In the aftermath of the attacks on Orlando, Florida, and Nice, France, the media was quick to blame foreign terrorist groups, even though the killers appear to have been troubled loners whose behavior hardly reflected extreme religious ideologies they supposedly supported.
Although Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group known in the West as ISIS or ISIL) has taken credit for both of these attacks, there’s not much evidence that either killer had any concrete ties to it or any other terrorist groups.
Both killers appear to have been members of the LGBT community, despite the fact that Daesh, whose philosophy has more to do with the extremist Wahhabist sect than Islam, is known for murdering LGBT people in the Middle East.
On July 14, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a tractor-trailer through a crowd of revelers celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, killing 84 people, including 10 children, and critically injuring at least 50 others. Bouhlel, known to police prior to the attack as a petty criminal, was frequently described as a “loner” and irreligious by those who knew him.
Walid Hamou, a cousin of Bouhlel’s wife, told the Daily Mail on July 15 that Bouhlel “was not religious.”
“He did not go to the mosque, he did not pray, he did not observe Ramadan. He drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs. This is all forbidden under Islam,” Hamou said.
He also told the Daily Mail that Bouhlel beat his wife, Hajer Khalfallah.
The Daily Telegraph, citing French media reports, noted that Bouhlel’s mobile phone records suggest that he “used dating websites and dabbled with drugs and drink,” supporting Hamou’s claims. Investigators have determined that Bouhlel was bisexual, and The Daily Beast reported on July 18 that he was a male prostitute.
Although Daesh took credit for the attack on the French seaside town, the French government has been unable to link Bouhlel to any terrorist groups.
“Those links, for the moment, have yet to be established by the investigation. So we must still be prudent with what we say on that subject,” said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in an interview with RTL France, according to TeleSUR English.
Despite the lack of any concrete ties to Daesh or other extremist groups, Bouhlel’s actions seem destined to intensify both France’s domestic police state and its interventionism abroad. Cazeneuve was quoted declaring, “We are at war with terrorists who want to strike us at every cost and who are extremely violent” even as France extended its state of emergency and threatened intensified military action in the Middle East.
On July 15, CNBC quoted French President Francois Hollande, who said, “Nothing will make us yield in our will to fight terrorism. We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”
“Hollande is suggesting this has been directed by the dying embers of IS in Syria and Iraq, even if not directly planned by them, and as a result he intends to use France’s full force to drive them off the territory they occupy in those countries,” said Alan Mendoza, founder and director of the Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative British think tank with ties to Donald Trump, in an interview with CNBC.
Jeff Stein, in a July 15 opinion for Newsweek, cast doubt on these efforts:
“If such measures have stopped any terrorist attacks, French authorities aren’t talking much about them. In fact, say some American counterterrorism experts with experience in France, it’s too much, too late: They are only further embittering millions of immigrants from former colonies who have long been marginalized in French society.”
Jim Naureckas, in a July 16 analysis for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, noted that outlets like The New York Times rushed to label Bouhlel a terrorist, “despite the absence of any evidence of a political motivation, or indeed any motive at all,” as though “the definition of that crime were based on ethnicity rather than motivation.”
A similar pattern holds true for Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter who left 49 people dead and another 53 injured on June 12. While the FBI cast doubt on some of the claims, multiple reports have stated that Mateen took part in Florida’s gay culture. Like Bouhlel, Mateen beat his wife, which Rolling Stone called an “ignored red flag” of future violence.
And although Mateen reportedly pledged allegiance to Daesh during his 911 call from the Pulse nightclub, he also swore allegiance to Hezbollah and al-Qaida, two groups fighting Daesh in Syria.
In a June 15 report on Mateen, The Associated Press suggested that Daesh may have erred in its rush to take credit for “a killer whose backstory of conflicted sexuality and heavy drinking is at odds with a carefully crafted public image of its fighters.”
The AP quoted an analysis by the Soufan Group security consultancy, which suggested:
“The uncomfortable reality is that attacks such as the one in Orlando become ‘Islamic State attacks’ simply because the attackers declare them as such. The validity of their assertions matters less than the consequences of their actions.”
Citing other terrorist attacks with dubious links to Daesh, the AP suggested these claims amount to nothing more than empty propaganda:
“[F]or Islamic State, anything can be a win if it’s played right.”
Watch “#NiceAttack : Killer was ‘not a lone wolf, more of a stray dog’” from France24 English: