In the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub attack that left 49 people dead, media reports are now regularly calling the incident "ISIS-inspired." But as new details emerge, it's clear that the gunman -- Omar Mateen -- had no direct connection to ISIS at all. So what does "ISIS-inspired" actually mean?
To understand the full implications of the issue, we have to look at the digital age strategies employed by modern terror groups, as Laura Ling explains in this Seeker Daily special report.
In the past, organizations like al-Qaeda coordinated terror attacks following a relatively strict protocol. Fighters were trained in places like Pakistan and Yemen, then dispatched to carry out specific missions. Unapproved attacks were forbidden.
While ISIS does follow similar guidelines for some of its attacks, it's also employing new strategies that leverage the power of propaganda in the digital age. Through carefully assembled online messages, the group encourages "lone wolf" attacks like the one that took place in Orlando. Followers are told they do not need to ask for permission, and in fact do not need to communicate with ISIS at all. The only requirement necessary to carry out acts of terror in their name is to pledge allegiance to the group.
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It's a deliberate strategy designed to inspire fear and confusion by blurring the lines between ISIS' core fighters and its sympathizers. Immediately after the Orlando attack, ISIS claimed responsibility -- calling the gunman "one of the soldiers of the Caliphate in America" -- even though the group was entirely unaware of Omar Mateen or his plans.
The strategy has worked before: In the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting, the perpetrators pledged allegiance to ISIS. But to subsequent FBI investigations, there was no direct communication between them and the Islamic State.
The use of online propaganda to inspire lone wolf attacks is a critical component of ISIS' lethal take on asymmetric warfare. So while Omar Mateen was not directly ordered by ISIS to carry out the attacks, it's accurate to say that he was inspired and directed by the group, through the use of frighteningly sophisticated digital age war strategies.
-- Glenn McDonald
New York Times: Orlando Gunman Was 'Cool and Calm' After Massacre, Police Say
The Daily Beast: Was The San Bernardino Massacre Really ISIS-Inspired?
Palm Beach Post: Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says
NPR: Still No Evidence Linking San Bernardino Shooters To ISIS, FBI Says