IS latches on to global attacks as it fights for survival

BEIRUT– Just hours after Stephen Paddock unleashed a hail of bullets on a country music festival in Las Vegas, the Islamic State group issued a flurry of statements claiming the 64-year-old gunman as one of its own. The quick responsibility claim — discounted by FBI officials — is the latest in a series of dubious or seemingly fake IS claims, reflecting the extremists’ eagerness to latch onto global attacks it can tout as its own as it fights for survival in its Mideast base.

Three years after it declared its so-called Islamic caliphate across huge swaths of Syria and Iraq, IS has lost most of the territory and is on the run in its few remaining bastions. Far from the confident propaganda it pumped out when it controlled a pseudo state, the group now justifies its losses to its supporters and urges them not to give up the fight.

“It really reflects the existential crisis facing ISIS,” said London-based Mideast analyst Fawaz Gerges, using an alternate acronym for the group.

Investigators are still looking for clues to explain what drove Paddock, a high-stakes gambler and retired accountant, to gun down 58 people from his high-rise hotel room in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The IS statement did not provide a shred of evidence to support its claim that he was a “soldier” from its ranks, saying only that the man, who it identified by the alleged pseudonym “Abu el-Bar al-Amriki,” had converted to Islam three years ago.

The Associated Press reported the IS claim, but noted the group provided no evidence of a link.

Unlike previous attacks claimed by IS, there is no indication Paddock had religious or political inclinations, nor did he leave a video message of himself pledging allegiance as some attackers have.

Paddock killed himself as police closed in, making it easier for IS to make the claim.

The group has a history of exaggerated, unsubstantiated or false claims, but these have picked up in frequency as its position at home became more tenuous.

In June, the group claimed an attack by a gunman who ignited a casino fire that left 36 people dead in the Philippine capital, Manila. It turned out to be a botched robbery by a heavily indebted Filipino gambling addict.The group also claimed a knife attack on Sunday that killed two women in Marseille, France, but French authorities say they have found no link between the attacker and IS.